Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

Reporter

Tim Murphy is a senior reporter in MoJo's DC bureau. His writing has been featured in Slate and the Washington Monthly. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy [at] motherjones [dot] com.

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The Assault Weapons Ban Just Doesn't Have the Votes

| Fri Jan. 25, 2013 2:53 PM EST

Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-Calif.) new assault weapons ban legislation has many features the original 1994 law lacked—most notably, it closes loopholes that allowed manufacturers to produce de-facto assault weapons, and it eliminates the sunset provision, meaning the new version wouldn't expire after 10 years as the first one did. But according to Bloomberg, AWB 2.0 is missing one key thing that the original had—votes:

A proposed ban on sales of assault weapons would be defeated in the U.S. Senate today unless some members changed their current views, based on a Bloomberg review of recent lawmaker statements and interviews.

At least six of the chamber’s 55 Democrats have recently expressed skepticism or outright opposition to a ban, the review found. That means Democrats don’t have a simple 51-vote majority to pass the measure, let alone the 60 votes needed to break a Republican filibuster to bring it to a floor vote.

...The five Democratic senators from traditionally pro-gun states who've recently expressed skepticism about the bill are Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Independent Senator Angus King of Maine, who is caucusing with Democrats, also said he opposes a ban.

This isn't exactly surprising. On Sunday, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wy.) predicted the ban wouldn't even come up for a vote. For gun control advocates, the question going forward may be just how much capital they want to invest in what's looking like an uphill battle—especially given the uncertain effects of the initial ban.

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Dianne Feinstein Tries to Unsuck the Assault Weapons Ban

| Thu Jan. 24, 2013 1:07 PM EST

The problems with the 1994 assault weapons ban, according to its supporters, were twofold. The first was that gunmakers could—and did—simply modify their semiautomatic weapons to fit the law by eliminating cosmetic features. An AR-15 without a bayonet mount is still an AR-15; it's just marginally less effective in hand-to-hand combat with Redcoats. That second problem with the ban was that it ended, sunsetting in 2004.

At a Capitol Hill press conference on Thursday to introduce new legislation banning assault weapons, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) promised that she and her colleagues had learned from their mistakes. "One criticism of the '94 law was that it was a two-characteristic test that defined [an assault weapon]," Feinstein said. "And that was too easy to work around. Manufacturers could simply remove one of the characteristics, and the firearm was legal. The bill we are introducting today will make it much more difficult to work around by moving a one-characteristic test."

And unlike AWB 1.0, Feinstein explained, this one wouldn't expire in 10 years: "No weapon is taken from anyone," she said, but "the purpose of this bill is to dry up the supply of these weapons overtime, therefore there is no sunset on this bill."

Feinstein's bill, like the original version, includes a ban on the manufacture and importation of high-capacity magazines, defined as any feeding container holding more than 10 bullets—something gun-control advocates point to as one of the success stories in the 1994 law. It would also close a loophole that legalized the slide iron stock, which as my colleague Dana Liebelson reported, allows gun-owners to convert their firearms into fully-automatics weapons—legally.

But the package faces stiff opposition, including from some Democrats. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) recently lamented "one-size-fits-all directives from Washington," and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), who initially seemed receptive to limits on assault weapons and high-capacity clips, has since clammed up.

Even if Feinstein's bill does make it through Congress, though, there's still an open question as to what it would actually accomplish. Although Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) suggested on Thursday that the ban might have saved "hundreds of thousands" of lives had it never gone away, a 2004 University of Pennsylvania study commissioned by Department of Justice was much more reserved: "We cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation's recent drop in gun violence. And, indeed, there has been no discernible reduction in the lethality and injuriousness of gun violence."

Top Obama Organizer Wants to Turn Texas Blue

| Thu Jan. 24, 2013 10:42 AM EST

For the last decade, Democrats have dreamed of turning Texas blue. Yet for the last decade, Texas has turned increasingly red—peaking over the past two years, when Repbulicans gained a supermajority in the Legislature for the first time ever. Those two facts, needless to say, can't really coexist. Now, Politico's Alex Burns reports, Democrats think they may have found a solution:

The organization, dubbed "Battleground Texas," plans to engage the state's rapidly growing Latino population, as well as African-American voters and other Democratic-leaning constituencies that have been underrepresented at the ballot box in recent cycles. Two sources said the contemplated budget would run into the tens of millions of dollars over several years—a project Democrats hope has enough heft to help turn what has long been an electoral pipe dream into reality.

At the center of the effort is Jeremy Bird, formerly the national field director for President Barack Obama's reelection campaign, who was in Austin last week to confer with local Democrats about the project.

One month into its existence, though, the group has already hit its first road bump: Thanks to a quirky system that forces legislators to draw straws to determine the length of their terms in redistricting cycles, the party's best statewide candidate (per the story), state Sen. Wendy Davis, will only serve two years instead of four. That means that come 2014, Battleground Texas' first bite at the gubernatorial apple, its most viable candidate for governor will likely be fighting for statehouse re-election instead. Such is life for Lone Star Democrats.

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