WASHINGTON - The Senate Judiciary Committee approved California Sen. Diane Feinstein's bill last week on a party-line vote of 10-8, but it was expected to have little chance of passage in the full chamber, and none at all in the House of Representatives.
The Senate will still vote on the assault weapons ban as a separate amendment.
Feinstein, a senior Democrat and a leader in the fight for tighter gun restrictions, told reporters Tuesday that she was "disappointed," but later she said that she still considered it significant that her measure would get a vote.
"What Senator (Harry) Reid told me is that I would have an opportunity for a vote," she said on CNN. "I take him at his word."
It takes 60 votes to get most bills through the Senate, and no GOP senator has expressed support for Feinstein's legislation. Some Democrats oppose it as well, including Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Separating the assault weapons ban from the other measures could help give cover to Democrats from Republican-leaning states who face tough re-election campaigns next year, such as Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Kay Hagan of North Carolina.
"I think there was a sense that the assault weapons ban would fall by the wayside at some point," said Robert Spitzer, chairman of the political science department at the State University of New York at Cortland and a gun control expert.
Majority leader Reid, D-Nev., told reporters Tuesday that he'd counted, at most, 40 votes for the assault weapons ban.
"That's not 60," he said. "I am working to put something together that I can get 60 votes to put a bill on the floor. I'm going to do everything I can to do that."
Feinstein has been pushing for the legislation since December, when 20 children were killed in a rampage at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school. The shooter, armed with an assault rifle, also killed six adults before taking his own life.
Such a setback isn't new to Feinstein. The four-term senator sponsored the original ban, which Congress passed in 1994 after multiple attempts. It expired a decade later, and in spite of Feinstein's pleas, Congress did not renew it.
Spitzer gave the rest of the legislation, which includes strengthened background checks and a crackdown on trafficking of illegal weapons by "straw" purchasers, a 50-50 chance in the Senate.