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 54.

    Calling fellow Brits - I am glad that most of us still see sense regarding the merits of gun control, but can we please put that case without resorting to pointless and offensive anti-Americanism, which achieves nothing. A couple of comments that have emerged so far (#35, #14) already cross that line. Let's not have more of them; we want a debate here, not a stupid xenophobic slanging match.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    I personally hate guns of any sort. Yet, I am against more gun legislation as none of it works. War on drugs, war on guns, war on this and war on that. It is all garbage aimed at limiting the freedoms of law abiding citizens and increasing the wealth of the powers that be. Safety is a ruse being used to limit freedom and prevent the peoples ability to fight back against said powers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    @44 ScottNYC

    Sadly, Leo has already beat me to it. The difference in recording crime statistics in the UK includes many crimes which are not included in the US criteria, so it is unfair/wrong to compare the two. If you want you can compare the homicide rate, you will find that is much higher the US.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Agree US needs to curb gun culture & move to something akin to our laws. You do not get a licence for a firearm or shotgun without serious investigation & have to comply with very strict rules. Urbanites know nowt about the reasons for legal weapons & only see harm done by illegal ones. & what parents buy their kids replica guns - townies!

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    It is established psychopathological fact that a small percentage of any population will include people suffering from psychotic disorders. It is also well established that early identification of such people is fraught with difficulty. For these reasons, to arm any large population with firearms is absolute folly and guarantees further massacres like those already seen in the US.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    American morals, sensibilities and ethics regarding gun ownership are so distant from ours in UK. Luckily 3,000 miles distant in my opinion.
    However, this is an American issue for them to decide. Only they have to live with the outcome whichever way it goes. It's nothing to do with any other country.
    I can only wish that their conscience guides them to the best outcome.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    44. ScottNYC

    The "the UK has more violent crime than the US" meme is, I'm happy to report, a myth. The apparent difference in the rates of violent crime between the UK and US arises from the different ways crime is reported/recorded in the 2 countries. In the UK, various crimes which would not be considered 'violent' in the US, are reported, and recorded, as violent crimes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Guns and ammunition are big business in the US.
    Guns are part of the history and the myth of the country.
    Fighting the financial interests AND the Wild West mentality will be some fight. But I wish Obama and his supporters all possible luck.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Like every empire in history, the USA will surely lose its current power over the next few decades, one way or another. I feel sorry for all the decent Americans who risk being swept away in an almost-inevitable orgy of mutual suspicion, greed, hatred, ignorance & conspiracy madness.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Realistically, the best solution that might get through would be further shoring up the ban on automatic weapons, limited numbers of guns per household/person, and make buying ammo on the net illegal, instead putting it through local gunshops etc. That way, Americans still can have their 2nd Amdt., and there's more chance of noticing psychopaths who are stocking up, or at least limiting the damage

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.


    Funny how you Brits have no problem using something "written in the 1700s" to justify your unwelcome occupation of Gibraltar but sneer at our 2nd Amendment. The bottom line is we don't want to be like Home Invasion Britain, where violent crime is shamefully higher than ours--by a lot!

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Now if the US not only required background checks for ownership but *also* held the gun owner responsible if he/she allowed someone who did not have a background check to use the weapon, then that would be a sensible step forward, allow the US to cling to its Blessed Second Amendment and prevent kids taking their parents weapons and gunning down other kids!

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    My bet is it will not happen - the US loves its guns too much.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

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

    Too late when the carnage has happened ... what's criminalising about banning assault-style weapons and limiting magazine sizes?

    Strange how a country that wants to ban other countries from having weapons that it possesses itself cries 'freedom to have arms'!

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Make the guns unaffordable. If people feel they have a right to bear arms, fair enough, but make them so costly that no one can buy them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    The Second Amendment to the US Constitution was for an armed militia, not for citizens to carry weapons around whenever they feel like it. There is simply no need for citizens to possess handguns, semiautomatic or otherwise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    It seems that that last shooting of children has triggered many more shootings/killings across the world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    @mikewow (19)

    "why criminalize law abiding citizens?"


    Legislating for *any* new restriction of any kind is by definition criminalising an act that was previously available to law-abiding citizens. Yet some restrictions are for the common good. All you are doing here is finding an emotive way to express it rather than advancing an argument against it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    How many more children are going to have to die in school shootings before the gun lobby realises their 'Right to bear arms' is insane?

    Oh, and please don't give me the old chestnut of 'guns don't kill people, people kill people'; I'm sure that's a big comfort to the parents who have to identify the dead bodies of their children.

    Grow up, get a brain and put your guns down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    I wouldnt trust the majority of Americans to use a toothpick responsibly never mind a firearm!


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