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Feinstein: Assault weapons ban "an uphill climb"

(CBS News) Passing the Senate's newly introduced assault weapons ban will be "an uphill climb," the bill's sponsor, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said today on "Face the Nation." Still, she added, it will likely pass "because the American people are very much for it."

Citing support from the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the police force, the clergy and trauma room surgeons, among others, Feinstein said there's a far broader network in favor of gun law reform than is often credited. But opposition from the National Rifle Association, she said, "has such a pronounced view that [it] dominates the arena."

Feinstein said this legislation differs from the ban she spearheaded in 1994 - which remained in effect until 2004 - and is more "moderate" than the New York or California state laws in that it doesn't require registration for grandfathered weapons. Asked about Americans who fear their second amendment rights will be infringed upon should the new law make it through Congress, Feinstein said, "let's talk about rights for a minute."

"Does a child have a right to be safe in school?" she asked, referring to last month's massacre at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school. "Does a law client when he goes into a law firm have a right to believe he's safe? Does a shopper in a mall have a right to believe that she's safe? I think so.

"...Look at Aurora," she continued. "People sitting in a theater. Somebody with 100 rounds in a drum came in and just mowed down people. Do people going to movies have a right to be safe? You want to talk about rights, talk about the rights of the majority, too."

A New York Times report this morning, Feinstein pointed out, shows "a very young youngster with an AR-15 in the newspaper this morning. That's the same type weapon that was used at Sandy Hook school [in Newtown]. I know what happened to the bodies at Sandy Hook school, and to have these weapons just floating around our society and particularly with youngsters who are by nature unpredictable, is a bit frightening."

Appearing on the program after Feinstein, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly commended the senator for pushing "a move in the right direction." Though he said arrest records show only two percent of gun violence in New York City over the past two years have been caused by assault weapons, one problem that can be addressed in the new legislation is that "90 percent of the guns we confiscate are coming from out of state," he said.

"We need a national, comprehensive strategy, or we need other states to put in the very strong, aggressive gun legislation that just passed under Gov. Cuomo's leadership in the state legislature," he said. "So we are the target, so to speak. It's coming in from other places, but we're clear not looking to infringe on the rights of legitimate people to possess guns legally."

During a discussion later in the show, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., emphasized Kelly's point that assault weapons are not the overwhelming problem. "But," Gingrich continued, "I also think the term 'assault weapon' is propaganda.

"...The fact is every political attack from John F. Kennedy the president has involved a weapon which would be legal under Sen. Feinstein's law. Pistols - go to Chicago, the murder capital of the United States... over 500 people died last year. They weren't assault weapons. And I think this is a serious question where we ought to have the courage to look at facts and not create propaganda."

Sweeping changes to the law, like an assault weapons ban, Gingrich said, promotes the "perennial desire to make the innocent have a more complicated life because of the handful who are the guilty, rather than focusing on the guilty."

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., sided with Gingrich, and argued an assault weapons ban "is not the answer to helping keep people safe" because it "is not going to get to the root of the problem."

"I think that we're looking at symptoms; we're not looking at the root causes," she said. "You want to make certain that people are safe in public places; you want to make certain that children are safe at school. But I've got to tell you, doing a so-called 'assault weapons ban' is going after a symptom, and as teachers have said to me, don't focus on whatever is the weapon. Get to the root cause.

"Look at some of these mental health issues," Blackburn continued. "Look at some of these drugs that are involved in this. Look at some of the violence that is permeating this society. Teenagers' parents are all saying, you know, you need to drill down on this a little deeper."

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