House Democrat challenges Reid: 'Wake up' and pass assault weapons ban

Arguing that public opinion is squarely behind an assault weapons ban, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said this week that congressional leaders — including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) — should "wake up" and enact it.

Reid, a long-time opponent of a ban on assault weapons, suggested recently that he wouldn’t consider such a proposal in the Senate despite indications that the Obama administration might urge that prohibition after receiving the recommendations of Vice President Biden's gun-violence task force.

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But an animated Lowey on Tuesday cited recent polls indicating strong public support for a ban on assault weapons — among other gun reforms — and warned that Reid and other critics are standing in the way at their own peril.

"The latest polls are very, very shocking and I am thrilled. The American public has had it, whether it was Newtown or Aurora or Gabby Giffords in Arizona," Lowey, the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, said during a press briefing in the Capitol. "You look at those percentages, way over 60 percent supporting [an] assault weapons ban, high-capacity magazines, and ... background checks. 

"I would hope that the Senate and the House wake up and understand that the American people are fed up," she added. "They absolutely support the assault weapons ban and all the other provisions that the task force has been working on."


Biden, after meeting this month with a long list of stakeholders in the gun-reform debate, is expected to deliver his violence-prevention strategy to President Obama on Tuesday. The provisions will include legislative proposals that would require congressional approval, as well as executive actions that would not.

The proposals are a direct response to last month's shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six school staff were murdered by a lone gunman who carried a military-style semi-automatic rifle.

Obama has long-supported a ban on assault weapons, and many observers expect such a proposal to be part of the White House response to Sandy Hook.

But gun-control legislation of any kind has a tough road ahead. House Republicans are already lining up in opposition to any new limits on buying or owning firearms or their accessories.

"I will seek to thwart this action by any means necessary, including but not limited to eliminating funding for implementation, defunding the White House, and even filing articles of impeachment," freshman Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) warned Monday in reference to Obama's gun-reform push.

Reid over the weekend cited GOP opposition as the reason he likely won't push an assault weapons ban through the Senate. He said he's not going to stage votes on any gun proposals that don't have a chance of passing the lower chamber. 

“Let’s be realistic. In the Senate, we’re going to do what we think can get through the House," Reid said in an interview with Vegas PBS. "And I’m not going to be going through a bunch of these gyrations just to say we’ve done something, because if we’re really legislators, the purpose of it is to pass legislation.” 

The comments arrive as a series of new polls — including those released this week by Pew Research and The Washington Post/ABC News — indicate that a strong majority of respondents support expanded background checks, a ban on high-capacity magazines and placing armed police in schools.

Additionally, 55 percent of Pew respondents and 58 percent of Post/ABC respondents said they support an assault weapons ban. 

Rep. Elizabeth Esty, a freshman Democrat who represents Newtown, said Tuesday that she hasn't been on Capitol Hill long enough to know whether significant gun reform can pass in the current political environment. But political roadblocks, she said, won’t deter most of the new Democrats from fighting for it.

"I am part of a group of freshmen who believe we need to not accept the answers of the past and we need to do better," Esty said. "Newtown, Conn., is a wake-up call to elected officials to do better for this country, and I believe there is will out there to take on comprehensive reform.

"I will be supporting an assault weapons ban," Esty added, "and we certainly will be pursuing vigorously [a ban on] high-capacity magazines, which were used in this and virtually every mass killing in this country."