On a straight party-line vote, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill Tuesday dramatically expanding background checks to cover nearly every gun purchase.
The development was hailed by gun-control advocates as well as the White House, but the measure's sponsor said he still wants to craft compromise legislation with Republicans that will have a better chance of passing the full Senate.
"It's not the only way to do it," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat. "I have been talking and am continuing to talk with colleagues across the political spectrum about a compromise approach and I remain optimistic that we'll be able to roll one out."
As it's now written, his bill would expand background checks to all private sales, with exemptions only for transactions between family members, or for friends exchanging firearms on a gun range.
Under current law, only dealers who are federally licensed must perform checks, which has created the so-called "gun-show loophole" where private individuals can sell their firearms at shows without putting purchasers through the checks.
Mr. Schumer's bill cleared the committee on a 10-8 vote, and it is the third bill the panel has passed in response to the December shooting rampage at the elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
In addition to Mr. Schumer's bill, the Judiciary Committee approved a bill to provide funds for school-safety efforts. Last week, it okayed a measure to combat gun trafficking and straw purchasers, who buy guns with the intention of transferring them to others.
Still to come is the bill from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, that would ban so-called assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines — the most far-reaching gun control proposal to be taken up post-Newtown. That bill is expected to be debated in the committee Thursday.
House Republican leaders have said they will wait to see what clears the full Senate.
Mr. Schumer had been engaged in lengthy negotiations with fellow Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, as well as Republican Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Mark Kirk of Illinois, but talks stalled last week over a disagreement about record-keeping on gun sales. All four have said they will keep working toward a compromise on the issue.
Nevertheless, advocates applauded the vote — while also realizing they have a long way to go before anything is signed into law.
"The Senate Judiciary Committee made important progress today, but it's up to their peers in Congress to be bold and follow suit," said Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who is co-chairman of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
White House press secretary Jay Carney also hailed the bill's passage and said work will continue between the White House and Congress on those measures and other pieces of President Obama's package aimed at curbing gun violence.
But Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the committee, who voted against the background check legislation, warned of a slippery slope.
"Mass shootings would continue to occur despite universal background checks," he said. "Criminals will continue to steal guns and buy them illegally to circumvent the requirements. When that happens, we will be back here debating whether gun registration is needed. And when registration fails, then the next step is gun confiscation."
Mr. Schumer, in pointed remarks, sharply rebutted the claim.
"This idea that this will lead to national registration or confiscation, I have to tell you, my good friend Chuck Grassley, that demeans the arguments here," he said.
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