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 74.


    There's just no way in hell some of the people in the States are going to give up their arms without a fight.
    And, ironically, they've already got the arms for that fight.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    Read an article a few days ago. A man keeps weapons in his house to defend his family against intruders. They are kept in his daughter's bedroom.

    I thought they kept them nearer to hand. "Would you mind waiting while I just go to my daughter's bedroom to select a weapon?"

    I say again, it's illogical.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    There's absolutely nothing to stop any nut with mental health problems or a drug addict walking into any shop in the USA and buying a gun/rifle and ammunition and coming out fully armed to commit a crime. It happens time and time again to the extent that people seeing it on the news most nights simply don't take much notice anymore as it is considered as 'normal' behaviour in the USA.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    Take a look at Washington D.C. crime statistics. Guess what? It's one of the tougher areas to have/carry a gun in. If you remove a citizen's ability to protect themselves, whether with a knife/gun/hand grenade, then they will be predated upon. Bad people go to where no one can stop them to do their crimes. It is not rocket surgery. Criminals will not care, they'll get and use guns anyways.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    re. 33.FrTed :
    "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."

    If citizens have nothing to fear from an armed government then surely government has nothing to fear from an armed citizenry?

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    60. Rzwetzig

    I may be wrong, but I don't think cars are designed/built to kill. Guns are.

    Completely different topics, and 'drink-driving' is irrelevant in this discussion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    That background checks should apply to all gun sales is a no-brainer. What's the point in having background checks at all if the law provides for a readily available backdoor with which to circumvent it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    I might be being a bit naive and unrealistic but I keep wondering whether the gun debate will cause thoughts of secession in some states like the slave abolition movement did.

    There's just no way in hell some of the people in the States are going to give up their arms without a fight. Some of them seem to love their guns more than members of their family.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    I appreciate this is important news to all those living in the USA, but why is this on the front page of the UK website while also being given the greatest prominence? Is there nothing else going on in the UK or Europe?

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    Background checks for private gun sales can only work if you have mandatory gun registration. Once you have all the guns registered to their owners, its easy to confiscate them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    I'm pretty sure if our government had to debate the same issue, they would come up with a scheme to tax guns - either publicly or privately through insurance or an unavoidable rent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    I'll pay off our national debt, and theirs, if this 'debate' results in any meaningful change in policy beyond some minor changes in administration to make the process of getting a gun slightly more 'robust'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    The 2nd Amendment is not for hunting!
    It is for keeping tyrannical government fearful!

    Remember: the USA can now spy, arrest, torture and execute YOU without due process! If they want to change the Constitution, there's a mechanism for that too.

    "Among the many misdeeds of British rule in India, history will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of arms as the blackest."
    ~Mohandas Gandhi

  • Comment number 61.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Extremists... using extreme language... "Grow a brain and put the guns down." How about you just shut up and let those with a reasonable turn of mind deal with this issue? Banning guns does not work. Guns are not the problem. People who would use them to harm others is. Where's the passion when it comes to drunk drivers? They kill more than gunmen do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    USA owes $15Trllion mostly to China who are its main lenders. The only thing that is stopping the USA from going bankrupt is that they are the biggest armaments manufacturers and dealers in the WORLD. Guns are big business. War means profit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

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

    Good. Then we'll just pull our satellites from outer space, you know the ones, the ones helping clueless Brits operate their "sat nav" (GPS in the First World) so they can get to the pub where they face a potential ban on beer glasses because they're used as weapons by the responsible British.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    44. ScottNYC

    1. I think it's more than just Brits making comment (making comment *not* sneering).

    2. Unwelcome occupation? California, New Mexico etc. Pots & kettles?

    3. "Violent crime is shamefully higher". Suggest you check your facts before making that assertion.

    USA: please don't get defensive and rude if others comment. We fail to see your logic, that's all. We're not attacking you!

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    44. ScottNYC - "...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!"

    Sorry Scott, you're gonna have to provide some evidence to back that up, because I seriously doubt it's true - " a lot!" ain't gonna cut it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    As a Liberal gun owner I find my views are drowned out by the zealots of the NRA. The sensible use of background checks, trigger locks, safes & very stiff penalties for reckless, wanton disregard of safety might be a start. But more than that we need to recognise that "We the people" includes far more non gun owners & gun owning non NRA members than the tiny, noisy ranks that forms the NRA.


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