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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  • Comment number 274.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 273.

    The 2nd amendment was written by politicians during a time where uncertainty of law and order was high and would of been a good thing to write within it at that time in history.
    But It needs to evolve as people and society does.
    These people who hold onto ideas written back then need to change there outdated views.
    The 2nd amendment is outdated and needs to change.

  • rate this

    Comment number 272.

    Most countries have standing armies and large stockpiles of weapons. Any threat from outside does not suddenly appear. Militias are set up when violence threatens. We don’t need weapons in the general population except in time of crisis. Thousands of innocents have died in the US because of an obsolete sentence, perhaps appropriate to its time, but a death sentence for many in the modern USA.

  • rate this

    Comment number 271.

    Oh come on, they were fighting with muskets. It was a much more level playing field.
    Guess what the militia did at Lexington when they first faced the redcoats? They ran. They ran from every battle! Washington held a low opinion of the militia.
    It wasn't until French troops starting arriving in force, and the Continental Army starting taking shape, that the British lost decisive engagements.

  • rate this

    Comment number 270.

    Boehner sums it up perfectly as noted in this articles last paragraph.

    This is all about political posturing. Obama needs to tackle the really problem of enforcing what's already in place. Instead he chooses to make wheepy presentations. Pathetic.

  • Comment number 269.

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

  • Comment number 268.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 267.

    259. PlimsolePete
    "Stop living in the past and secure a safer, peaceful future for yourselves."

    Stop living in a bubble and look around and at history!

    It does repeat itself!!!

  • Comment number 266.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 265.

    Nevertheless, a well regulated militia is a rather different thing to a peasant uprising.

    A militia is supposed to protect the state from invaders, not from a tyrannical government. That was the original argument - civil war within a state, not an invasion. The militia possess their weapons for military service, not revolution or self defense (hence regulated).

    So Switzerland is irrelevant.

  • rate this

    Comment number 264.

    I cannot believe how little you understand about the 2nd amendment. Have you read it? "A well regulated militia", like the Swiss's, is a match for any force. Indeed it defeated the British Empire, the world's super power, did it not?

    That militia needs a fighting chance, the tools, to joust the state's soldier. A gun provides that, and it's been effective throughout history.

  • Comment number 263.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 262.

    78. UKL_UK Libertarian "How many guns did the President gift to Syrian opposition The Al Nusra Front (Al Qaeda affiliates) in Syria this week "

    You have a reliable source for your assertion? The complaint I've heard is that the U.S. is not providing lethal aid to the opposition. You just making things up like Ayn Rand Paul?

  • rate this

    Comment number 261.

    # 256 what do they have to protect themselves from? I lived in West London for 13 years, never attacked or threatened. The gun industry lives on paranoia, the media promotes paranoia, right wing politicians thrive on paranoia, the world is actually quite safe, guns make it less so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 260.

    @253. UKL_UK Libertarian

    (defensibility of Switzerland)


    I would say from a German(1940s) point of view, Switzerland was already completely surrounded and if necessary could just be squeezed to death, 'porcupine' or not. No point invading really... rather like Monte Cassino, which was instead idiotically attacked head on by the Allies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 259.

    Rules, Laws and even Constitutions can be amended. Now is the time to man up and change things for the better. Stop living in the past and secure a safer, peaceful future for yourselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 258.

    I had a air riffle once shooting cans at 250 yards away I had fun setting up the sights to be dead accurate.
    But 2 weeks latter after the novelty worn off I sold it.
    I just don't understand the mentality why any adult would want to propel a led projectile that can kill others.
    This fetish they have should end wile there in there teens.

  • rate this

    Comment number 257.


    Again, you have no evidence to back your claim of 100k. If 25 million people were armed in the UK out of 60 million, you are saying no more than 100k would fight and the rest would just roll over? This is quite frankly laughable and you have no evidence to back this up. If 25 million had guns, you could bet at the very least a million of those would fight, AT LEAST.

  • Comment number 256.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 255.


    .. but everything you said about the easier "legal" ways are completely irrelevant, because if this were to happen as I said the country would grind to a halt. When you say armed groups, you mean millions of people being armed, right? We outnumber them on a huge scale, so yes they wouldn't be held up by a rifle, but a million rifles would certainly make it incredibly difficult for them.


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