Washington—The following is the prepared statement from Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) from today’s Judiciary Committee hearing on the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013 (S. 150):
On December 14th, 20 sets of parents received a call no parent ever wants to receive: that they would never see their son or daughter again. Earlier that day, a deranged killer wielding an assault weapon and armed with high-capacity ammunition magazines shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and unleashed a rapid hail of bullets, killing 20 young children – mostly 6-year-olds -- and six brave administrators in just the handful of minutes that it took for law enforcement to respond to the scene. That horrific event shocked our nation, and the pictures of these little victims brought tears to the eyes of millions of Americans.
We are holding today’s hearing because the massacre in Newtown was, sadly, not an anomaly. From the 1966 shooting rampage at the University of Texas, to the Newtown massacre, we have witnessed an increasing number of these mass killings. Since 1982, there have been at least 62 mass shootings across the United States. And they have been accelerating in recent years: 25 of these shootings have occurred since 2006, and seven took place in 2012.
The one common thread running through these mass shootings in recent years— from Aurora, Colorado, to Tucson, Arizona, to Blacksburg, Virginia — is that the gunman used a military-style, semiautomatic assault weapon or large-capacity ammunition magazine to commit the unspeakable horror.
We have with us today victims of the shootings in Newtown, Aurora, and Virginia Tech. Would all the victims of gun violence in the room please stand so we may recognize you?
We also have with us today law enforcement leaders from around the country who have traveled here to support our efforts to ban these military-style assault weapons, including the Chiefs of Police of Tempe, Arizona; Northridge, California; Vail, Colorado; Athens, Clark County, Georgia; Algonquin, Illinois; Wellesley, Massachusetts; Baltimore County, Maryland; Norman and Spencer, in Oklahoma; Tualatin, Oregon; Waverly, Pennsylvania; Petersburg, Virginia; the Universities of Central Florida, of Washington, of Wisconsin-Madison, and of Dickinson and McDaniel Colleges; and the leaders of the state police in New York and Rhode Island. Would these and the other law enforcement officers here today please stand and be recognized?
We cannot allow the carnage I have described to continue without taking action. That is why I joined with many of my colleagues on this Committee – Senators Schumer, Durbin, Whitehouse, Klobuchar, Franken, Blumenthal and Hirono, as well as many others off the committee -- to introduce legislation to prohibit the sale, transfer, manufacture, and importation of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
As the members of this Committee know, we enacted a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, which I authored in the Senate and Senator Schumer sponsored in the House, in 1994. Unfortunately, that law had a 10-year sunset, and Congress failed to renew it when it expired in 2004.
Unfortunately, since the ban expired, over 350 people have been killed with assault weapons. Over 450 have been wounded.
And the weapons are even more lethal today than they were in 2004. For example, you can buy what’s called a “bump fire stock” that you insert into an AR-15 or other assault rifles. This device is legal, and it allows a semiautomatic firearm to be fired as quickly as a fully automatic machinegun, which has been banned for decades.
Since the Newtown massacre, several states, including California, Delaware, Maryland, and New York, have shown leadership in moving to ban assault weapons or strengthen existing bans.
Even so, the need for a federal ban has never been greater. For instance, California law enforcement tells me that our state’s assault weapons ban has been effective in reducing the availability of these deadly weapons—but some criminals continue to acquire these guns from neighboring states like Arizona, where they are unregulated. And as Senator Durbin stated at the last hearing, “in the last 20 years, 9 percent of the crime guns in the city of Chicago could be traced to the state of Mississippi.” It is clear that we need a national solution.
Let me now describe the key features of our new legislation, the “Assault Weapons Ban of 2013”:
- The bill bans the sale, transfer, importation, and manufacturing of 157 specifically-named semiautomatic assault weapons.
- It also bans any other assault weapon, which is defined as a semiautomatic weapon that can accept a detachable magazine and has one military characteristic, such as a pistol grip, barrel shroud, or folding stock. These features were developed for military weapons to make them more effective and efficient at killing people in close-combat situations.
- The bill prohibits large-capacity ammunition feeding devices capable of accepting more than 10 rounds. This is a crucial part of this legislation. These large magazines and drums make a gun especially dangerous, because they allow a shooter to fire 15, 30, even 100 rounds or more without having to pause to reload. In many instances, like the tragic shooting of our colleague Congresswoman Gabby Giffords in Tucson, Arizona, it is only when the shooter has to stop to change magazines that police or others have the chance to take the shooter down.
The bill also protects the rights of legitimate gun owners:
- First, it will not affect hunting or sporting firearms. Instead, the bill protects legitimate hunters by specifically excluding over 2,000 specifically-named firearms used for hunting or sporting purposes.
- Second, the bill will not take away any weapons that anybody owns today. Anyone who says otherwise is simply trying to deceive you. Instead, the bill grandfathers weapons legally possessed on the date of enactment.
- Finally, while the bill permits the continued possession of high-capacity ammunition magazines that are legally possessed on the date of enactment, it would ban the future transfer of these magazines.
Let me address for a moment the charge that assault weapons bans such as this are unconstitutional.
The original federal assault weapons ban was challenged repeatedly in federal court, on every ground that opponents could come up with, including the Second Amendment, the Ninth Amendment, the Commerce Clause, the Due Process clause, equal protection and being a bill of attainder. Each and every time these challenges were rejected and the ban was upheld, including by the Fourth, Sixth, Ninth, and D.C. Circuits.
As we all know, the Supreme Court subsequently recognized the individual right to gun ownership in District of Columbia v. Heller. However, that decision clearly stated that “the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.” 554 U.S. 570, 626 (2008). Justice Scalia, the author of that opinion, wrote that “dangerous and unusual weapons” could be prohibited. Id. at 627.
Following Heller, state assault weapons bans in California and the District of Columbia have been upheld as consistent with the Second Amendment, in People v. James, 174 Cal.App.4th 662 (2009), and Heller v. District of Columbia, 670 F.3d 1244 (2011) (known as “Heller II”).
I am proud that the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013 has received the endorsement of major law enforcement organizations, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Major Cities Chiefs of Police. I also am very pleased that this legislation is endorsed by hundreds of other health, religious, governmental, civic, and other groups and officials. Without objection, I will place the list of endorsements into the record.
I will now yield to the Ranking Republican Member, Senator Grassley, for his opening remarks.