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 374.

    362. UKL_UK Libertarian
    "Wrong. Finland won. It was never apart of the USSR"

    The Finns in the end were pragmatic, they realised that to continue would eventually end in defeat and occupation. They did enough to give them a negotiating position. But they were still required to grant all of the USSR's original territorial demands, plus some further concessions and pay heavy war reparations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 373.

    They should debate how deluded and primitive they are; guns are only a sympton of their real problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 372.

    Time by definition is change. My point was merely that back then everyone had muskets whereas today you have rifles vs tanks, jets, nukes etc.

    Firepower and military tech is way beyond what was available back then. A revolution would require either foreign forces or military desertion - the second amendment is realistically a very minor factor.

    But 20,000 people actually are dying annually.

  • rate this

    Comment number 371.

    Why are Americans so anti gun reform ?

    If you are sane, pass the tests, they you can still have a gun, so why do people rebel against the proposed changes.

    Sadly, the Govt are not trying to ban all guns, just common sense as to why certain guns are needed, and a tighter control who has them

    Is that not sensible and logical ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 370.

    @361 PacificIsland

    "Thread seems to have lost the plot. How are we going to reduce the number of school shootings???"

    I think you're up wrong tree; school shootings make such a microscopic proportion of shooting that it's folly to concentrate on them.

    Free clue: The VAST majority of shooting homicides (75-85%) are committed with handguns, not 'assault weapons' or indeed any kind of long gun.

  • rate this

    Comment number 369.

    Ur right. Lucky we made rape, kidnapping, homicide illegal. Oh wait, criminals do it anyway. Why? Because they ignore they law. Only law abiding citizens obey the law.

    Why would a law preventing criminals from having guns work, when 95% of gun crime is committed with stolen guns?

    But hey, lets make it harder for law abiding citizens to defend themselves from the criminals. Genius

  • rate this

    Comment number 368.

    367.UKL_UK Libertarian

    "that a US government can't be tyrannical?"

    He really doesn't seem to think that the US could possibly lie to it's citizens. Well Vietnam, lied to get into that war. Iraq, lied to get into that. Those are relatively recent and i would presume ukstudent understands exactly why these two events show that the war crimes of the US seem to snowball, one after the other.

  • rate this

    Comment number 367.

    "I personally think most of the US Army would defect"
    I hope so too.

    "No - where did I make any suggestion of that?"
    You mocked me for quoting the Founders, whose logic I applied: that times never change. History merely repeats. History is tomorrow's headline. You seem to think that this can't happen again, the Founders' words are empty, that a US government can't be tyrannical?

  • rate this

    Comment number 366.

    Some towns in the USA where guns are everywhere, someone robbing a bank would immediately have about 20 guns pointing at them from all the customers, these places have hardly any crime.

    Where legally registered guns aren't allowed, gun crime is rampant in the USA. The guns are all in the bad guys hands.

    It is not like the UK where guns are a rarity, so it is not as clear cut as many think.

  • rate this

    Comment number 365.

    Congressman Boehner says, ineffably, "criminals don't obey laws, so why pass them?" This passes for thoughtful political discourse on the US right. Clearly we could then take rape, kidnaping, homicide and so on off the statute books as being de facto inoperative. Enough assault weapons, enough multiple charging, enough special bullets. Killing people is wrong. Stop making it easy to do lots of it

  • rate this

    Comment number 364.

    It is beyond belief why so many Americans feel the need to be armed, to be protected from the already armed ??

    How can anyone, unless corrupted by money, argue the need for better, sensible gun control ??

  • rate this

    Comment number 363.

    Federal defenses for US nukes are extensive, and no doubt a dictator would put only his most trusted men in charge of them before the need to secure them should arise.

    I personally think most of the US Army would defect, depriving the state of its power and thus negating the need for an armed citizenry and rending the 'uprising' a moot point.

    No - where did I make any suggestion of that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 362.

    Hitler shaking in his boots?
    He avoided invading Europe's porcupine, despite being miniscule. He wasn't stupid.

    I think you belittle the Finn's achievement, and the Soviets' resources (approx):
    Troops: Finland 340,000 vs. USSR 800,000
    Tanks: Finland 32 vs. USSR 2,500
    Aircraft: Finland 114 vs. USSR 3,880

    Wrong. Finland won. It was never apart of the USSR

  • rate this

    Comment number 361.

    Thread seems to have lost the plot. How are we going to reduce the number of school shootings???

    Most posts are hypothetical - what... if big government needs shooting; or I need to protect myself from the scary world...

  • rate this

    Comment number 360.

    351. UKL_UK Libertarian
    "Well I'll dream on, and think of how fellow tyrant haters in tiny Finland defeated the mighty USSR in WWII."

    Finland did not defeat the USSR in WWII. Though they gallantly held them during the "Winter War", the Finns realised they had to come to terms or face defeat and occupation. At the end of the "Continuation War", fortunately the Soviets had much bigger fish to fry

  • rate this

    Comment number 359.

    Part-timers are not a professional army.
    Again, we weren't talking about national defense. You keep bringing it back to that.
    Rubbish. They haven't been invaded because none of their neighbors have had any reason or inclination to invade.
    Do you think the Home Guard had Hitler shaking in his boots? No, it was our planes in the skies, ships at sea and the great Russian bear looming behind him.

  • rate this

    Comment number 358.

    "Nukes are guarded by federal troops - a dictator would be quick to secure them in the event of a rebellion."
    Easier said than done. Pakistan has that problem now with extremists. I think you'd fine governors seizing ALL federal property within their states, probably by peaceful defections or by force.

    Why do u think times are different now? Does our technology make us more moral?

  • rate this

    Comment number 357.

    Yes... with military troops and hardware, while most of the Soviet army was fighting the Third Reich's war machine.

    Nukes are guarded by federal troops - a dictator would be quick to secure them in the event of a rebellion.

    As for using them, one city would be acceptable collateral for maintaing power if he were losing a conventional war (which wouldn't happen without foreign intervention).

  • rate this

    Comment number 356.

    "Swiss train once every fortnight or something equivalent - they're not a frontline force..."
    All Swiss males receive basic, intensive, training for months to a year! Then throughout their lives.

    "The militia isn't the reason they haven't been invaded."
    Yes. It is. Everyone knows they're armed to the teeth. 85% gun ownership to households. Don't mess with "the little porcupine".

  • rate this

    Comment number 355.

    If think if they look closely, the constitution does not forbid criminal checks for those wishing to buy assault weapons. As there is no central registry for firearms, another something the NRA opposes, owners can still sell weapons privately.


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