With a collection of "assault weapons" in the backdrop, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California unleashed what is the most stringent piece of gun-control legislation to hit Capitol Hill this legislative session.
Feinstein's bill would prohibit more than 150 specifically named military-style guns, handguns and rifles, the sale of semi-automatic weapons that have detachable magazines over 10 rounds, and military assault weapons that include flash suppressors or pistol grips. Unlike the 1994 assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004, Feinstein said the current legislation will make it more difficult for manufacturers to skirt around the ban.
And unlike the 1994 ban, which sunsetted without much uproar in Congress, this bill will not expire.
The bill grandfathers in 2,200 existing semi-automatic weapons that are used for hunting and sports shooting.
"No weapon is taken from anyone," Feinstein cleared up.
The Thursday morning press conference began with a prayer by Rev. Gary Hall, Dean of the National Cathedral, and the acknowledgment that banning many types of semi-automatic weapons will not be easy.
"The gun lobby is no match for the cross lobby," Hall said. "Bless our elected leaders with the wisdom and the courage needed to bring about the changes the people demand."
But the political reality looks bleak for an all-out assault weapons ban. Many Republicans in the House of Representatives have remained silent on the issue. Republicans in the Senate and moderate Democrats would prefer to refocus the conversation on mental health initiatives and school security.
"You have to wonder if a bill that goes this far even gets a mark up," says Jeff Green, a gun manufacturer lobbyist. "The odds are extremely long that an all-out ban would pass the Senate let alone the House."
Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, the only Democrat with an A+ rating from the NRA, says the country must look at how existing laws can be strengthened before Congress tackles more stringent ones.
"Recent tragedies have shaken all of us, and everyone wants to do their part to protect our children and communities from violence of all kinds. Enforcing the laws we already have on the books is good first step, and it's clear more needs to be done to address access to mental health care," Baucus said in an E-mailed statement to US News. "Before passing new laws, we need a thoughtful debate that respects responsible, law-abiding gun owners... instead of a one-size-fits all directives from Washington."
Feinstein acknowledged the challenges ahead when she took the podium during her Thursday morning press conference.
"This is a tough battle," she said. "Our weak gun laws allow these mass killings to be carried out again, [and]again and again, Massacres have taken place in businesses, law practices, malls, movie theaters and especially schools. These massacres don't seem to stop."
Feinstein said the thread running through all of the school shootings from Columbine to Newtown is the fact the gunmen used semi-automatic weapons with high-capacity magazines.
Feinstein's House co-sponsor for the legislation, Democratic Rep. Carolyn McCarthy of New York took the podium to tell a more personal story. The Congresswoman lost her husband in a mass shooting in 1993. Her son was also severely injured.
"This battle has been a very lonely battle for many, many years," McCarthy said. While she acknowledged she has been meeting with NRA officials in recent weeks in an effort to find common ground, she said she can't "trust them to be there for the tough votes."
Democratic lawmakers tempered their tone, careful not to demonize gun owners. McCarthy emphasized the difference between NRA members who are duck hunters and sports shooters and those who have a desire to kill. Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois urged law-abiding gun owners to support the assault weapons ban.