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 34.

    The US is a country that considers itself superior, more moral and democratic than every other.
    But there is nothing superior, moral or democratic about allowing an unelected club to dictate the policy of the government and therefore the people.
    The NRA are fools doing the bidding of the gun manufacturers, yet it will be the common man, or more likely his child, who will suffer the consequences.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Citizens of the country which considers itself "leader of the free world" feel the need for guns to protect themselves from their own tyrannical government?

    It's illogical.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Not quite sure why there is any need for those of us in the UK to comment in what is going in in America. We can't influence it and if Americans are stupid enough to apply something like the constitution that was written in the 1700s to the situation today then let them suffer the consequences. Stupidity rules I fear

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    23. ukstudent
    Americans aren't too concerned by the genuine threat of being gunned down by a criminal, insane person or angry relative. They're more worried by the possibility of a tyrannical government creeping into power.
    Americans have been fed paranoia for so long (Yellow Peril, communism etc.) that this is hardly surprising. They NEED to see enemies everywhere.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.


    You are correct that laws are made for people, not psychos, however, surely the best way to protect people is to keep guns out of the hands of psychos?

    I would have thought tighter rules on acquiring weapons is simply a step towards doing that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    The gun control debate in the US will be largely meaningless until/unless SCOTUS repeals it's 'personal use' interpretation of the 2nd Amendment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    I would just love to see them police such a ban.

    I imagine a form of civil war would take place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    @Books of War

    Automiatic weapons have been banned in the USA for a number of years.
    Possesion is a felony and results in automatic jail time.
    However i do agree that the US needs to have better regulation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Criminal background checks. I can't see why anyone would have a problem with that. The real problem is that guns have become fashionable; that's why people want them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Eddie Izzard once wondered what would happen if you locked NRA idol Charlton Heston in a room with a monkey who has a gun: Would the pro-gun lobby argument of "guns don't kill people, people kill people" still hold up to scrutiny...?

    And that for me says everything that needs to be said when considering the need for tighter gun control in America and NRA's position.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    The right to bear arms is as logical as the right to arm bears!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Americans aren't too concerned by the genuine threat of being gunned down by a criminal, insane person or angry relative. They're more worried by the possibility of a tyrannical government creeping into power.

    Whether or not that's a rational fear is up for debate - with laws such as those that enable detainment without trial, there is a case to be made. But I don't think guns are the answer.

  • Comment number 22.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    It's ironic that Americans feel so terrified of 'big government', when their own seems almost totally in thrall to big business, religious fundamentalists & other powerful lobbies. Do I feel 'free' living under such a 'socialist' system as the UK, Germany or Sweden? Well....yes, actually.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    A trend that has been overlooked with these shootings is that the shooters were nearly all not the LICENCED firearms holder.

    Hence the proposed checks would be mostly ineffective.

    A better proposal would to LOCK UP all firearms in a secure cabinet and the ammunition in a separate LOCKED secure cabinet.

    This is a requirement here in the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    It's already illegal to murder, why criminalize law abiding citizens?

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    First I want to state that i am completely ain't I guns.

    However, the us has got to a point where everyone wants a gun. If they become harder to get then people will simply purchase them from gangs increasing the profits which those gangs make. Therefore people being able to legally buy guns is safer because it reduces gang prominence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    What is there to debate about? Are the mass shootings not enough to warrant serious regulation and much stricter laws on guns? As a nation it needs to pull its head out of its backside and sod this 'right'.

    Past/current nut job = no gun
    Past crime for violence related = no gun


  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    And before anyone else starts with the standard Pavlovian hyperbole of 'Rednecks waving their guns', you should look in the history books of these massacres and find out who actually carries them out. They're usually middle-class, white, suburban men from the Mid-West between the ages of 18-30. So maybe these 'hysterical' gun carriers have a reason to be outraged.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Hmmm... lets have a flutter on the outcome of this debate..

    My money is on "MORE GUNS", if there will be any other outcome!

    Absolute madness.....


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