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Will Congress Ban Semi-Automatic Guns? This New Bill Could Be A Step Forward

Desperate cries of "do something" and "thoughts and prayers aren't enough" may finally have broken through to Congress after the latest mass shooting. On Nov. 8, California Senator Dianne Feinstein, along with 22 other Democratic senators, introduced a bill to ban assault weapons and bump stocks. And this could be the right time to introduce such a bill: support for stricter gun control is at an all-time high, according to a Quinnipiac poll.

Called the Assault Weapons Ban of 2017, the bill proposes a ban on the manufacture and sale of "205 military-style assault weapons;" weapons with detachable ammunition magazines and other "military characteristics" like pistol grips; and "magazines and other ammunition feeding devices that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition, which allow shooters to quickly fire many rounds without needing to reload." The ban makes exceptions for guns that are already lawfully owned, meaning that people with legally purchased assault-style weapons would not have to turn in their firearms.

Feinstein's call for an assault weapons ban is a direct response to the fact that two of the deadliest shootings in American history have occurred in a matter of weeks. Only days ago, on Nov. 5, a gunman opened fire in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas killing 26. In Las Vegas on Oct. 1, a gunman fired on a crowd at a country music festival, killing 58 and injuring hundreds more.

Feinstein released a statement along with the bill, in which she said,

This bill won't stop every mass shooting, but it will begin removing these weapons of war from our streets. The first Assault Weapons Ban was just starting to show an effect when the NRA stymied its reauthorization in 2004. Yes it will be a long process...but we've got to start somewhere.
To those who say now isn't the time, they're right — we should have extended the original ban 13 years ago, before hundreds more Americans were murdered with these weapons of war.

The first assault weapons ban to which Feinstein is referring is the 1994 partial ban on assault-style weapons, written by Feinstein herself and instituted by then-President Bill Clinton, per The Atlantic. That ban outlawed 19 different kinds of assault weapons by "placing restrictions on the number of military features a gun could have and banning large capacity magazines for consumer use" — similar to, though not as extensive as Feinstein's 2017 proposal.

But due in part to pressure from the National Rifle Association, Congress allowed the ban to expire in 2004, according to NBC News.

Given the strength of the gun lobby, including the National Rifle Association (NRA), the likelihood of passing a 205-weapon ban is small. In fact, only two days after the Las Vegas shooting, GOP leaders said gun control would not be up for debate, according to The Chicago Tribune. The small chance of even debating gun control is something Feinstein acknowledged in her press release. She called the bill a "tool to reduce these massacres" that will be waiting for when Congress is "ready" to do its job.

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However, gun control proposals have overwhelmingly stalled since the 2004 ban expiration.

Today's proposal is not the first time since 1994 Feinstein has introduced gun control legislation: she likewise introduced an assault weapons ban proposal in 2013, after the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in which a gunman used semi-automatic weapons to shoot and kill 20 children and 6 adults.

Her 2013 proposal named 157 assault-style weapons that would have been banned, and, like the 2017 proposal, would have banned magazines above a certain capacity and "military style" upgrades. The Senate voted it down 40 to 60.

Then-President Barack Obama also signed 23 executive orders on gun control and gun violence in response to Sandy Hook, according to The Huffington Post. These executive orders included a directive for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to study causes and prevention of gun violence; providing mental health services in school; tougher background checks; and more. He also recommended legislative steps (similar to Feinstein's ban) to Congress, which chose not to take them. Obama's proposals joined more than 100 gun control proposals between 2011 and June 2016 that failed to gain traction in Congress, according to CBS News.

In 2016, after the shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, which left 49 dead, several Democratic House Reps. led a sit-in to demand a vote on a "no fly, no buy" bill that would have prevented people on the terrorist watch list from purchasing guns, per Time. Similarly, Senate Democrats led a filibuster aiming for the same goal. Neither the Senate nor the House were successful in passing the provision.

And just last week, representatives introduced a bipartisan bill that would make it more difficult to acquire bump stocks — which allow semi-automatic weapons to fire at a faster rate, and which the Las Vegas shooter used in order to increase the carnage during his rampage. But the NRA has officially opposed banning or otherwise regulating bump stocks, so the jury is still out on this bill.

So what now?

Whether or not Feinstein's latest proposal, which has support from senators such as Connecticut's Chris Murphy, a staunch gun control advocate, will even see time on the Senate floor is another matter. Many of the loudest voices in the GOP — including President Donald Trump — have said that these mass shootings are not a matter of gun control but of mental health.

In fact, earlier this week, during his 12-day tour of Asia, when asked if "extreme vetting" of gun ownership is appropriate in the wake of the Sutherland Springs shooting, Trump told reporters, "I think that mental health is your problem here... But this isn’t a guns situation." Despite his belief that mental illness is behind mass shootings, in Feb. 2017, with little fanfare, Trump signed a bill rolling back Obama-era regulations that made it harder for people with mental illness to acquire firearms, according to NBC News.

So what is the answer? According to Senator Murphy, who co-sponsored Feinstein's 2017 assault weapons ban proposal and spoke to Elite Daily in July, it's a matter of patience and perseverance.

He said, "Everybody has to understand that no great social change movement found success overnight, and every great social change movement met lots of failure before they found success."

Feinstein and her 22 co-sponsors are doing their part.

And the next step might just start with a simple call: according to the Pew Research Center, those who support stricter gun control — which is now the majority of Americans, per Quinnipiac — are less likely to contact their elected officials.

So perhaps it's time to pick up a phone.