Assault Weapons Ban Passes Senate Committee; But Not Without a 2nd Amendment Debate

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted in favor of the assault weapons ban bill today, the most controversial of the gun measures put forward since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which occurred three months ago today.

The assault weapons ban, which was sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., passed on a strictly party-line vote - 10-8 - and faced fierce opposition from Republicans on the committee, at one point turning personal when Sen. Ted Cruz, R- Texas, questioned Feinstein about the constitutionality of her bill.

"The question that I would pose to the senior senator from California is would she deem it consistent with the Bill of Rights for Congress to engage in the same endeavor that we are contemplating doing with the Second Amendment in the context of the First or Fourth Amendment?" Cruz asked.

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"I'm not a sixth grader," Feinstein said in response. "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."

"I'm not a lawyer, but after 20 years I've been up close and personal to the Constitution. I have great respect for it. This doesn't mean that weapons of war and the Heller decision clearly points out three exceptions, two of which are pertinent here," she said. "It's fine you want to lecture me on the Constitution. I appreciate it. Just know I've been here for a long time. I've passed on a number of bills. I've studied the Constitution myself. I am reasonably well educated, and I thank you for the lecture."

"Congress is in the business of making law. The Supreme Court interprets the law," she said.

Feinstein later apologized to Cruz for her response to him, saying "Senator I want to apologize to you. You sort of got my dander up and that happens on occasion."

Feinstein's bill calls for the banning of semi-automatic weapons with at least one military feature and specifically names 157 weapons which would be prohibited. It additionally bans high-capacity magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds.

The president praised the committee for passing the assault weapons ban - the final gun measured passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee over the past week - and urged the Senate and the House of Representatives to vote on each of the proposals.

"I thank the Senate for taking another step forward in our common effort to help reduce gun violence by advancing a bill that would reinstate and strengthen a ban on the sale of military-style assault weapons and set a 10-round limit for magazines," Obama said in a statement. "These weapons of war, when combined with high-capacity magazines, have one purpose: to inflict maximum damage as quickly as possible. They are designed for the battlefield, and they have no place on our streets, in our schools, or threatening our law enforcement officers."

"The Senate has now advanced legislation addressing three of the most important elements of my proposal to help reduce the epidemic of gun violence in this country. Now the full Senate and the House need to vote on this bill, as well as the measures advanced in the past week that would impose serious penalties on anyone who buys a gun as part of a scheme to arm criminals, improve school safety, and help keep guns out of the hands of criminals, people with a severe mental illness, and others who shouldn't have them. Each of these proposals deserves a vote," he said.

On Tuesday, the committee voted in favor of a bill which enhances school safety and a background check bill, which along with the assault weapons ban, will face opposition from Republicans and moderate Democrats on the Senate floor. Last week, the committee passed a gun trafficking bill which makes "straw" purchasing illegal.

Each of these bills will now face consideration on the Senate floor, likely next month.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll released this week found that 57 percent of the public supports an assault weapons ban - fewer than the 91 percent who are in favor of universal background checks and 82 percent who support gun trafficking legislation.

ABC News' Mary Bruce contributed to this report.

This post was updated.