Two men hold a sign on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday calling for legislation to curb gun violence. The Sente Judiciary Committee approved two measures Tuesday including one expanding the background check requirements on gun purchases.
WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday passed two measures designed to curb gun violence, and the bills are now headed to the Senate floor for a full vote. The committee postponed a vote on the most contentious measure — a proposed reinstatement of the assault weapons ban — because its sponsor, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, was not present at the committee’s meeting.
The first measure, which would expand background checks to private gun sales, passed the committee 10-8, with no Republican on the committee voting for its passage. Another bill, offered by Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, enjoyed more bipartisan support.
That measure renewed a grant program to help schools improve their security procedures for a 10-year period and increased the financing to $40 million per year from $30 million. It creates a Department of Justice and Department of Education task force to develop advisory school safety guidelines. It passed 14-4; the nays were all Republicans.
The committee approved a measure last week that would make the practice of illegally buying a gun for someone else — known as a straw purchase — a felony, and increases penalties for the crime. The vote was significant because it attracted the support of one Republican — Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the most senior Republican on the committee — signaling that the measure may well succeed in the full Senate later this spring.
These bills, varied in their approach, represent part of President Barack Obama’s gun safety agenda.
Shortly after the mass shooting in December in Newtown, Conn., which killed 20 children, there seemed to be momentum in the Senate for a universal background check bill, which law enforcement officials believe is a necessary tandem to enhanced penalties for straw purchases, because it would help identify more criminals and the mentally ill who seek to buy guns.
However, the bill’s main sponsor, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., has had trouble finding a Republican strongly supportive of gun rights to join him and bring others along. He originally seemed to be joined by Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who peeled away over disagreements over record keeping in private sales; Schumer believes such records, already kept in gun store transactions, are needed to make the checks meaningful while Coburn fears they will lead to a gun registry.
Grassley gave voice to those concerns Tuesday during the hearing, saying there was “no way to enforce a requirement without a registry.” While noting that such a registry is prohibited under federal law, he added that the government could move to repeal that law in the future, and that the “next move will be gun confiscation.” Grassley also repeated a concern of opponents of universal background checks that such a law would induce more criminals to make straw purchases or steal firearms.
Schumer, though clearly open to watering down his bill, sounded frustrated as he tried to counter Grassley’s claims.
“This idea that this will lead to a national registry or confiscation that to me demeans the argument,” he said.
Conceding that criminals would still obtain guns under an enhanced background check measure, he said, “You don’t use that on any other law.” Concerning laws meant to check “terrorism or robbery or murder,” he said, “we never see the argument, ‘We shouldn’t have laws because the bad people will get around them anyway.”
The committee will vote on the assault weapon ban bill Thursday, a measure that would also reduce the legal size of some ammunition magazines.
Once the committee’s work is done Thursday, it will be up to Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, to decide which measures to bring to the floor of the Senate, setting up tough votes for many lawmakers who are torn between constituents who view even modest gun-safety measures as an infringement on their Second Amendment rights, and those who would like to see Congress take some action.
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