Senate set to consider gun background checks
A divided Senate Judiciary Committee on today narrowly approved a Democratic bill expanding required federal background checks for nearly all gun purchases, but put off immediate consideration of an assault weapons ban.
The panel approved the measure by 10-8, supported by all Democrats and opposed by every Republican. Expanded background checks is at the heart of President Barack Obama's proposals to curb firearms. The sponsor is Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
Senate committee passes universal background check
Schumer said the measure will reduce gun crimes, and said he hopes he can strike a compromise on the measure with Republicans, which would enhance the measure's chances of passing in the full Senate.
Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, the top Republican on the panel, said he believes the measure will ultimately lead to a federal registry of gun owners - which is illegal. Schumer said wouldn't happen.
The committee also approved a measure providing $40 million a year for school safety programs.
The committee postponed until Thursday a vote on a proposal by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to ban assault weapons.
Requiring background checks for private gun transactions between individuals - they're currently mandatory only for sales by licensed dealers - is designed to prevent criminals, people with severe mental problems and others from getting guns.
Tuesday's meeting came five days after the panel approved Congress' first gun control measure since December's horrific shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school that left 26 students and educators dead. The initial bill, brought forward by the Judiciary Committee's chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and others, establishes long prison terms for illegal gun traffickers and straw purchasers, people who buy a firearm for criminals or others forbidden to buy one.
The Judiciary Committee was expected to approve all three bills at some point this week, with full Senate consideration next month.
"The American people need to speak up and be heard," Leahy said Monday of what it will take for gun measures to clear Congress.
Schumer's background check bill would exempt only a narrow range of transactions from the checks, such as transactions between immediate family members or weapons loaned temporarily during sporting events.
It would also renew the requirement that states and federal agencies report records on felons, people with major mental health problems, drug abusers and others to the federal background check system - something that many states and agencies do poorly.
Schumer had hoped to win GOP support for his measure, and he spent weeks bargaining with conservative Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who carries an A rating from the National Rifle Association, but those talks foundered.
Coburn's backing could have helped Schumer win support from other Republicans and moderate Democrats from states with large numbers of GOP voters - potentially crucial because the background check measure is likely to need 60 votes in the 100-member Senate.
There are 55 Democrats, including two independents who usually side with them.
Schumer still hopes to broaden support by the time the background check measure reaches the full Senate by finding other GOP senators willing to negotiate changes in it.
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