The two top legislative items on President Obama's list of what to do about gun violence both have the support of substantial majorities of Americans in most polls on the subject. But one of them, the universal background check, has a very good chance of passing the Senate, while passage of the other, a renewed assault weapons ban, will require a miraculous change of mind from several senators on the Democratic side of the aisle. Some prodigious but cautious arm-twisting will have to be done for that to happen and the chief arm-twister, Majority Leader Harry Reid, is himself opposed to reinstating some version of the old ban, which expired after 10 years in 2004.
Just how contentious the ban debate already is can be seen in the fact that not only is the effectiveness in preventing gun violence of that first ban widely doubted, but the definition of "assault weapon" is also disputed. Some foes of the ban claim the very use of the term emerged from an attempt by "gun grabbers" to scare Americans into believing weapons designated as "assault" were something that they are not. "Assault," they say, should be only applied to fully automatic military rifles capable of firing multiple bullets with one squeeze of the trigger—a kind of weapon strictly controlled for nearly eight decades—not to lookalike semi-automatics that can fire only a single bullet with each squeeze of the trigger.