A semiautomatic weapon can load bullets automatically, but it fires only once each time you pull the trigger.
In the effort to prevent mass killings, those pushing for a new assault weapons ban want to halt the production and sale of certain semiautomatic weapons and high-capacity "feeding devices" -- such as magazines -- that allow for a large number of rounds of ammunition.
Feinstein's bill would ban selling, transferring, importing or manufacturing 120 named firearms, certain semiautomatic rifles, handguns, "shotguns that can accept a detachable magazine and have one military characteristic" and "semiautomatic rifles and handguns with a fixed magazine that can accept more than 10 rounds."
During the previous ban, gun manufacturers were able to make cosmetic changes to evade the law. One chief question now is how a piece of legislation could avoid the same happening again.
Can words help bridge the gap?
"If you get new words, there's a better chance of moving beyond the polarization," says Tannen, who is spending this year at Stanford's Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. But, she warns: "Words don't stay neutral for long -- because they quickly get associated with the people that use them."
When asked for a case in which more neutral language may have helped the government reach a consensus on a controversial topic, Tannen said "nothing comes to mind."
Instead, the race is on to control the semantics, which are "crucial," says Wilson.
"In American politics, the person who gets to define the issue wins."