WASHINGTON — Senator Dianne Feinstein, who is leading the push to restore an assault weapon ban, acknowledged on Sunday that the effort faces tough odds to pass Congress because of the powerful gun lobby, but she said most Americans are behind the idea.
Feinstein, a California Democrat, introduced a bill on Thursday that would prohibit 157 specific weapons and ammunition magazines that have more than 10 rounds. The White House and fellow Democrats have doubts that the measure can pass because lawmakers facing reelection battles might fear pro-gun voters and the National Rifle Association.
“This has always been an uphill fight. This has never been easy. This is the hardest of the hard,” Feinstein said, but she added, “I think I can get it passed because the American people are very much for it.”
Feinstein championed a similar assault gun ban that became law in 1994 but expired a decade later.
Feinstein, who was interviewed on CBS and CNN, said the NRA, which spends large sums of money to defeat such laws, is a pawn of those who make weapons.
“The NRA is venal. . . . The NRA has become an institution of gun manufacturers,” she said.
The NRA disputed her characterization.
“The NRA is a grass-roots organization,” spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said. “We have more than four million dues-paying members and tens of millions of supporters all across this country. Our political power comes from them. Decent and logical people would understand that.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to take up the proposal on Wednesday and hear from the NRA’s chief executive and senior vice president, Wayne LaPierre. Mark Kelly, the husband of former Democratic Representative Gabby Giffords of Arizona,who was shot in an assassination attempt, also plans to testify.
Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the GOP vice presidential nominee in 2012, said Congress should focus on the causes of violence and not the weapons alone.
“We need to look beyond just recycling failed policies of the past,” Ryan said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Let’s go beyond just this debate and make sure we get deeper.”
Representative Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, also urged lawmakers to consider mental health issues.
“When I hear some of this conversation, I think that we’re looking at symptoms, we’re not looking at the root causes,” she said. “And I understand the senator’s passion for this, but I got to tell you, an assault ban is not the answer to helping keep people safe.”
New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who favors the assault weapons ban, expressed skepticism that it would be returned to law.
“It’s probably a heavy lift in Congress,” he said in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” He added that handguns were a bigger problem in cities such as his.
In the wake of the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., in December, President Obama has pushed to expanded background checks, restore the assault weapons ban, and ban high-capacity ammunition magazines.