US Senate opens first gun control debate in years

Volunteers place grave markers on the National Mall in Washington DC as over 3,300 crosses, stars of David, and other religious symbols are placed to remember those affected by gun violence 11 April 2013 Gun control supporters have erected a temporary memorial for those killed by guns since a massacre at a Connecticut primary school in December

The US Senate has opened debate on a proposal to expand criminal background checks on gun buyers.

The bipartisan move marks the most serious consideration of gun control legislation in 19 years, though many hurdles remain before final passage.

Meanwhile, gun control advocates have gathered in Washington DC to make an emotional push for new restrictions.

The powerful gun lobby vows to oppose new gun control measures, arguing the US Constitution forbids them.

Thursday's procedural vote to begin debate passed 68-31, with a handful of Republicans joining all but two Democrats, who have the majority in the chamber.

It is the furthest into the legislative process any gun control bill has moved since 1994, when an assault weapons ban passed.

But where the debate goes from here is uncertain, says the BBC's Paul Adams in Washington.

Senators could take weeks to thrash out all the likely amendments. And crucially, there's absolutely no guarantee that any of this will actually become law, our correspondent says.

'Far ahead'

Gun control advocates planned several events on Thursday to draw attention to what is described as a national gun violence epidemic.

Religious leaders from Newtown, Connecticut began a 24-hour vigil at 11:30 local time (16:30 GMT) on the National Mall near the White House and Capitol building.

More than 3,300 grave markers placed there will represent those killed by guns since a gunman killed 26 people at a primary school in Newtown in December.

Another group has been reading aloud the names, places and ages of these gun violence victims.

The lobbying push by both gun control and gun rights groups comes as a Democratic and a Republican senator have announced an agreement on a bill to expand background checks.


To those watching the US gun debate from afar, the discussion today in Washington might seem shockingly modest.

Small reward, you might think, for a president who has gone to almost unprecedented lengths to achieve something bold. The sight of Barack Obama escorting the relatives of Newtown massacre victims to Washington aboard Air Force One was hugely symbolic.

But as Mr Obama stood at the door of his plane he already knew that the kind of legislation he wanted to see was not going to happen.

New York, Colorado and Connecticut may have found ways to ban assault-style weapons and limit magazine sizes, but there is little appetite for this kind of move in Congress.

And so the president must settle for what is doable: extended background checks.

In a country where gun ownership is entrenched both in law and culture, it still represents the most significant piece of legislation in 20 years.

On Wednesday, Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania unveiled a deal that would expand criminal background checks to online and gun show sales, establish a commission on mass violence, and ease some restrictions on transporting guns across state lines.

Their proposal is being hailed as the best chance for new gun control legislation, though it falls short of the far stricter measures backed by the White House.

Currently, so-called private gun sales by dealers who are not licensed, including some at gun shows, are not subject to criminal background checks on the purchaser.

Vice-President Joe Biden, a strong supporter of new gun control legislation, told MSNBC's Morning Joe programme on Thursday that gun control was "one of the cases where the public is so far ahead of the elected officials".

Mr Biden also accused the nation's top gun rights lobbying group, the National Rifle Association (NRA), of spreading disinformation, and promised expanded background checks would not lead to a national gun registry.

Gun lobby warning

Start Quote

We don't have to agree on everything to know that we've got to do something to stem the tide of gun violence”

End Quote President Barack Obama

But the NRA opposes the Manchin-Toomey deal, arguing background checks do nothing to prevent gun violence.

In a letter to senators on Wednesday, NRA lobbyist Chris Cox warned that the organisation would score lawmakers based on their votes on the Manchin-Toomey deal and other measures it opposes.

President Barack Obama's other proposals, including a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, have not gained traction in Congress.

After Thursday's vote, President Obama spoke to the families of Newtown victims, some of whom have become advocates for gun control, his spokesman said.

"The president congratulated the families on this important step forward, noting that the bipartisan progress would not have been possible without their efforts," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters.

Dan Baum: "I am a Jewish, liberal Democrat and also a gun guy"

Senators will soon vote on a series of amendments to the legislation and then once more to close debate, before voting on the bill itself.

Prospects for legislation in the House are unclear, with Republican House Speaker John Boehner declining to say whether the lower chamber would hold a floor vote on the issue.

"I've made it clear that if the Senate passes a bill, the House will certainly review it," Mr Boehner told reporters on Thursday.

"The thing that we have to remember is that laws are only as good as our citizens' willingness to obey them. And law-abiding citizens, do, in fact, obey them. Criminals don't obey them. In addition to that, we've got a system of laws that are not in force today."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    American citizens are the people who you really don't want to have access to guns.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    "People who are mentally ill should not have access to guns," Gov Cuomo said. "That's common sense."
    Common sense to me would be that anyone who wants to own a gun is, by definition, mentally ill.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    How many people know that the crime rate of US citizens authorized to conceal carry handguns, is less than crime rate for the equivalent number of police officers?
    Guns of any discription are not the issue. Restricting firearms access to registered, trustworthy people is the only step nessecary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Have you heard the gun lobbies moronic arguements for keeping their guns? You do get a good giggle. You can't ban cancer so why would you ban guns. They are not right in the head. Look what they did to Iraq when one of them got to the controls. They are like gremlins.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Guns clearly need to be regulated is the US, (at least automatic weapons) however one thing I will say is that America has a big gun culture which won't just go away with laws. They need to educate people on the dangers of guns and even then many will see it as the right to have a weapon (right to bear arms).

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    I hope something positive does come from all this. Unfortunately I don't think any gun related atrocity would make some Americans wake up to the cancer in their society. This obsession with guns is a like a sickness but I strongly suspect that the patient is just going to go on refusing treatment. More people will die needlessly and the NRA will carry on poisoning people's minds.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Th USA is so entrenched in this flawed notion of the "right to bear arms" that they have doomed themselves to endless killing year in and year out. Their youth suffers daily because some rednecked old men insist on the right to something that never was. They reap the whirlwind now, of so many lost children, that THEY caused. No civilised nation allows what the do - unfettered access to guns!

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    As usual, mainstream alarmism punishes the innocent instead of the criminals. You don't make laws for psychos, you make them for the people. As soon as you take from the people and into the hands of the government (guns, money, words) it sets a very dangerous precedent. We all know of these examples, and should not occur in a civilised, free world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    If the people of the USA have any sense at all they will hold on to their guns for dear life.

    The way that place is going they are going to need their guns to protect themselves from the state.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Yeah good luck with that. I can hear the rednecks shouting from here "they took our guns!".

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    The US beggars belief. If I really push my mind I can understand easy-to-get hunting rifles, but what kind of country allows its citizens to carry around weapons designed for no other purpose than killing lots of people. Absolutely crazy.

    At least they're debating the issue but the gun lobbyists seem to have been successful in the past, so lets not get our hopes up....

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    I am absolutely staggered at the amount of gun related deaths in America since December. According to this article - 3300!

    The UK may have it's faults but in 2010 there were around 27 murders by firearm. Even with the difference in population it proves the positive effect strict gun laws can have in a developed nation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    American Redknecks with guns = North Korea with Nukes

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    A well intentioned, but ultimately fruitless gesture. The gun lobby is far too powerful for real reform, and the right to bear arms is so ingrained in certain areas of the USA it is viewed as inalienable a right as we consider free speech, or a fair trial.


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