Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., simply doesn't have enough votes to pass an assault weapons ban through the Senate he told reporters Tuesday, a sign that the legislation's days are numbered.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., learned this week that her signature gun legislation would not be included in a broader package of bills. Reid will introduce a package on the floor, after the Easter recess, focused on background checks, school safety and firearms trafficking.
Feinstein will have to offer her bill as an amendment to another proposal if she wants to keep it alive.
"Right now her amendment, using the most optimistic numbers, has less than 40 votes," Reid said.
He added that he would not attach the assault weapons ban if it was certain to die, although he understood how important the issue is to Feinstein.
Feinstein's legislation, which would ban 150 kinds of military-style weapons, handguns and rifles as well as high-capacity magazines over 10 rounds, has emerged as the most extreme gun bill to come out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill passed out of committee along party lines, but that may be as far as it goes.
Around Capitol Hill, support for the ban is hard to come by.
"My focus is more on background checks. I think it is the most important thing we can do," says Sen. Angus King, I-Maine. "I really hope that can happen. It will save lives. That is where my attention is. I am not really focused on the assault weapons ban at this point and I don't know what its chances are on the floor."
The political reality shows why Senate Democrats are hesitant to throw their support behind an all-out ban. The majority in the Senate is delicately built on a class of moderate Democrats who represent conservative states. Voting 'yes' on a ban could make them vulnerable in midterm election campaigns in 2014. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont, Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, and Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., are among those who could upset voters by banning some semi-automatic guns.
Republican lawmakers say Reid's strategy is a political maneuver designed to shield his majority from voting on a bill that was never going to get the support it needed to pass in the end, especially in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
"There is no way a ban on guns is going to get to the president," says Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.
Republicans say they aren't surprised by Reid's move, adding that Feinstein's bill wouldn't have prevented gun violence even if it had been enacted.
" I think [the assault weapons ban] is primarily focused on cosmetics and not on function. It really wouldn't do anything to solve some of these tragedies," says Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. "And it is a political matter that Sen. Reid loathed to have a bunch of red state Democrats running in  have to vote on it. I think that explains the strategy."
However, some liberal lawmakers say that letting another year go by without a ban could put the country in danger of watching another tragedy happen on its watch.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who consoled grieving parents after the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., says he is not going to give up on the ban.
"The NRA has been a staunch and steadfast opponent for decades, but we have growing momentum on our side," Blumenthal says. "Newtown was a call for action and we have made tremendous progress. Three plus months ago, these issues were politically untouchable. This time is different. I think we have reached a tipping point, a turning point and there is no going back."
Blumenthal says that he will continue telling the personal stories of those in his state who have been affected by gun violence and encourages supporters of the assault weapons ban to do the same if they want to see the bill survive.
"They have been very compelling when I have seen them talk to my colleagues," Blumenthal says.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., also warned that Feinstein's not through fighting.
"No one thought Sen. Feinstein would pass it the first time, and yet she did. So it depends on what the people are saying at home in the states of all of our colleagues," Boxer says.