WASHINGTON — Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who's leading the push to restore an assault weapon ban, acknowledged on Sunday that the effort faces tough odds to pass Congress and she blamed the nation's largest gun-rights group.
Feinstein, D-Calif., on Thursday introduced a bill that would prohibit 157 specific weapons and ammunition magazines that have more than 10 rounds. The White House and fellow Democrats are skeptical the measure is going anywhere, given lawmakers who are looking toward re-election 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.
"I think I can get it passed because the American people are very much for it," Feinstein said of the measure that follows a similar measure she championed into law 1994 but expired a decade later.
She acknowledged, however, the NRA's political clout.
"They come after you. They put together large amounts of money to defeat you," Feinstein said.
She also said the group was 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. We have more than 4 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," spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said.
The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to take up the proposal on Wednesday and hear from the NRA's CEO and senior vice president, Wayne LaPierre. Mark Kelly, the husband of former Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., who was shot in an assassination attempt, also plans to testify.
Rep. 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. ... Let's go beyond just this debate and make sure we get deeper. What's our policy on mental illness? What's going on in our culture that produces this kind of thing? You know, we need to have that kind of a discussion and debate," Ryan said.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., 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 the wake of the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn. In December, President Barack Obama has pushed to expanded background checks, restoring the assault weapons ban and banning high-capacity ammunition magazines. But members of his own party may thwart his hopes.