Stage set for Senate gun control debate; background checks are sticking point
Senate Democrats said Thursday they will take up gun control immediately after a two-week Easter vacation, and said the bill they’ll bring to the chamber floor will include universal background checks for all firearms sales and a crackdown on gun trafficking and straw purchases.
The background checks are the biggest sticking point — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he will include a strict measure written by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, rather than wait for a bipartisan compromise to emerge.
“I want to be clear: In order to be effective, any bill that passes the Senate must include background checks,” he said.
He began the process of bringing the bill to the Senate floor Thursday, even as the chamber was debating its fiscal 2014 budget.
Mr. Reid, who has emerged as the key gatekeeper on guns, said he will make sure there are votes on other proposals such as an assault weapons ban, a limit to sales of high-capacity ammunition magazines, and changes to mental health laws.
But none of those will be a part of the base bill, making it tougher for them to be a part of the eventual bill that will emerge from the chamber.
Gun control advocates had wanted Mr. Reid to include the magazine and assault weapons bans in the base bill, but he said there weren’t enough votes for the weapons ban to pass, and he didn’t want to jeopardize the rest of the legislation by tying them all together.
The White House has vowed to rally support for the assault weapons ban, which would limit sales of military-style semiautomatic weapons, and for the magazine ban, which would limit capacity to 10 rounds.
Flanked by New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and families of the victims of the December shooting rampage in Connecticut, Vice President Joseph R. Biden said Thursday the children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School deserve a vote.
“For all those who say we shouldn’t and can’t ban assault weapons, for all of those who say the politics is too hard — how can they say that?” Mr. Biden said at a news conference in New York City. “When you take a look at those 20 beautiful babies and what happened to them, and those six teachers and administrators.”
It’s not likely to be approved, but Mr. Bloomberg said having a vote will be important.
“Everyone’s going to have to stand up and say yea or nay, and then the rest of us have to decide just how we feel about people and their stance,” said Mr. Bloomberg, a staunch gun control advocate. “We will do everything to win support for it, and I know the White House will be doing everything that they can too.”
The base bill will include Mr. Schumer’s universal background check legislation, which would require background checks on virtually all gun transactions, with limited exemptions, such as gifts exchanged between family members.
Currently, all sales by licensed firearms dealers must go through background checks, but transactions between private individuals do not. Lawmakers are looking for a way to extend checks to almost all transactions without also creating a record-keeping system that gun rights supporters fear could turn into a gun registry.
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.