Pictures of Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims are displayed as Senate Judiciary Committee chairperson Dianne Feinstein speaks during a hearing on “The Assault Weapons Ban of 2013” at the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, DC, on February 27, 2013. Jewel Samad /AFP/Getty Images
The legislation is written by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, and as expected, the bill was sent to the full senate with a strictly party-line vote.
But before the vote, Feinstein had a tense exchange with Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.
In a question to Feinstein, Cruz tried to draw a parallel between the First and Second Amendments. He asked if Feinstein would “consider it constitutional for Congress to specify that the First Amendment shall apply only to the following books and shall not apply to the books that Congress has deemed outside the protection of the Bill of Rights.”
The context, of course, is that Feinstein’s legislation bans 157 different models of assault weapons and magazines that can hold more than 10 bullets.
Feinstein reacted to question viscerally.
“I’m not a sixth grader,” Feinstein said. “Senator, I’ve been on this committee for 20 years. I was a mayor for nine years. I walked in — I saw people shot. I’ve looked at bodies that have been shot with these weapons. I’ve seen the bullets that implode. In Sandy Hook, youngsters were dismembered.”
Feinstein did eventually explain that “there are different tests for different amendments.”
Feinstein said that her legislation would pass the tests set fort in the Supreme Court’s District of Columbia v. Heller, for which Justice Antonin Scalia — one of the court’s most conservative judges — wrote the majority opinion for.
Tom Goldstein of SCOTUSblog writes that with the decision, the court said the Second Amendment provides individuals a “right to possess a basic firearm (the line drawn is unclear, but is basically those weapons in general lawful use and does not extend to automatic weapons) and to use that firearm in self-defense.”
Cruz pressed Feinstein, asking her if it was then the job of Congress to determine what kinds of guns are legal or what kinds of books are legal.
Feinstein said it was the job of Congress to legislate and the job of the Supreme Court to interpret the laws. Should this bill become law, she said she fully expected it to survive a Supreme Court challenge.
By the way: This is not the first time Cruz, a freshman senator, has rankled the Washington establishment. Talking Points Memo reports that in February, Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, went after him for going “over the line” in his criticism of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
“So what we’re seeing here is a giant step — a beautiful step — backward in time, where we’re remembering that there is no us versus them. There’s only us, and we are the people, and the people are the police."