President Barack Obama's bid to renew a ban against military-style assault weapons narrowly won the backing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, sending it to the full Senate where bipartisan opposition is expected to kill it.
On a party-line vote of 10-8, the Democratic-led panel approved a bill to outlaw the sale of such weapons. The measure would also limit high-capacity ammunition clips to 10 bullets.
Military-style assault weapons have been the weapon of choice in a number of U.S. massacres in recent years, including one at a elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14 that left 20 children and six adults dead.
Polls show a majority of Americans back the ban.
But most Senate Republicans and a number of Democrats from rural states oppose it, arguing it would violate the constitutional right to bear arms. Many fear that backing it could cost them re-election.
Obama's call to renew the ban, which expired in 2004 after being in force for 10 years, is a centerpiece of his effort to curb U.S. gun violence in the wake of Newtown.
Before the Senate votes on it, likely next month, senators are certain to face fierce lobbying efforts from gun-rights groups as well as those who favor tougher gun laws, including mayors, parents and clergy.
Obama's Democrats control the Senate, 55-45. Yet 60 votes may be needed to clear a possible Republican procedural roadblock.
Senator Charles Grassley, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, told Reuters, "I don't think the bill will get more than 50 votes."
The assault-weapon ban bill is the fourth gun measure approved by the committee in the past two weeks, all on party-line or largely party-line votes.
The others would expand criminal background checks on gun buyers, make it a federal crime to buy a gun on behalf of someone who is prohibited from owning one, and provide $40 million a year in federal matching funds for each of the next 10 years to bolster school security.
At this point, the only one that seems likely to win approval by the Senate and be sent to the Republican-led House of Representatives for consideration is the measure to enhance school security. The one to expand background checks may also survive if Democrats can reach a compromise with Republicans.