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 394.

    The usa is borderline tyrannic.

    Indefinite detention without charge.

    Their citiezens spied on in many forms.

    Mass prisons capable of holding many thousands constructed, lying empty in the desert.

    Mandatory black box tracking devices in all cars by 2015

    A out of control police force.

    I would be holding on to my guns and I would certainly not be giving them up!

  • rate this

    Comment number 393.

    Nothing wrong with any gun in good working order, the only potential issues would be with who handled it and their attitude....

  • rate this

    Comment number 392.

    382. UKL_UK Libertarian

    * Less guns = higher Murder rates.
    Incorrect: Nancy Lanza had a huge arsenal. Made it easy for her son to pick whatever he needed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 391.

    386.Petts Wood Dave
    No!... strict gun control means fewer people die as a result of gun related violence.
    Less gun deaths, agreed. I did not say otherwise.
    I said, and this is fact, that the total murders goes up!

    More guns = less crime & murder overall.
    Less guns = more crime & murder overall (despite less 'gun deaths')

  • rate this

    Comment number 390.

    What, so I oppose gun violence therefore I must support war? What kind of reasoning is that?

    I was a student of history... how do you think I know about the American Revolution?

    Rome wasn't a point of focus for me, but I know enough. Many legions were repulsed, some utterly destroyed. The Roman Empire was constantly under attack by barbarians.

    Sorry, the comparison is ludicrous.

  • rate this

    Comment number 389.

    UKL_UK Libertarian

    He avoided invading Europe's porcupine, despite being miniscule. He wasn't stupid.


    Hilarious! To suggest that Hitler didn't invade Switzerland because the populous was well armed is ludicrous and desperate claw strutching. He had no need to invade. Switzerland was isolated and provided a usueful conduit for the loot.

  • rate this

    Comment number 388.

    Who *needs* an AK47 in their living room? Would it kill *more* people if there were better background checks on potential gun owners? How come one person can try to bomb a plane with a shoe and we all have to take off our shoes at airports, but if thousands of people are killed every year by handguns, absolutely nothing happens? The gun lobby is a vocal minority distorting the issue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 387.

    As usual the comment board is full of idiots who do not understand what the first amendment is about... protection from tyranny.

    Tyranny can't get a foothold if the populace is sufficently armed. Do you think North Korea would be in the state it's in if their population were as armed as the Dear Leader and his rabble?

    History has shown time and again that once guns are banned anything goes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 386.

    @382 UKL_UKLibertarian
    Fewer guns = higher Murder rates
    No! Whether it's Britain, Australia or Japan, the evidence is consistent and unambiguous: strict gun control means fewer people die as a result of gun related violence. The unwillingness of Americans to face this basic arithmetic and to curtail ready access to military-grade assault weapons is both baffling and frustrating.

  • rate this

    Comment number 385.

    383.Bill Walker
    The 2nd Amendment is a Constitutional right. I didn't make it up, the Republican Party didn't make it up. The NRA didn't make it up. It's in the Constitution. I think it's just as important as any of the other rights in our constitution.

    If you don't like it, change the Constitution legally but, don't subvert it illegally with these laws.

  • rate this

    Comment number 384.

    The idea of an armed populace protecting itself from the bad guys, is based purely on Hollywood fantasy. Firstly, that the bad guys are always easily identifiable (wear lots of black or have an arrogant swagger). Secondly, the bad guys are always much worse and slower shots than the good guys. If only life could be scripted that way!

  • rate this

    Comment number 383.

    The NRA is so single minded that if there was a shooting at the Masters, they would claim it was because the golfers hadn't decided to exercise their "right" to swop a 5 iron for an assault rifle in their bags.

  • rate this

    Comment number 382.

    A legion was quite a bit of manpower and could be (often was) resisted - a nuke is one bomb that cannot be fought or escaped.
    The people of Carthage, who had nowhere to flee, & no defense after their army was obliterated, had an identical situation & end, to the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
    Pity you're not a student of history ukstudent.

    * Less guns = higher Murder rates.

  • rate this

    Comment number 381.


    "20,000 people is not 'tiny', nor does the fact that people die from other causes lessen the need to deal with this cause of death."

    How many 100,000's of innocent people dead in Iraq and Afghan? How that's right they stopped counting. How many dead in these drone strikes over their life span? How many dead in Vietnam? Millions. Hypocritical doesn't even begin to describe it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 380.

    Violence breeds violence. The USA will never understand that and will never reign ingun control. It can be seen in their approach to North Korea...much driven by paranoia.

  • rate this

    Comment number 379.

    “The powerful gun lobby vows to oppose new ... measures, arguing the US Constitution forbids them.”
    The fact that we’re talking about the 2nd amendment to the US Constitution implies that it’s not some sacred text where any change would be sacrilegious. In Britain, the annual number of gun-related murders stood, at last count, at 41. In the US the equivalent figure was nudging 10,000.

  • rate this

    Comment number 378.

    A legion was quite a bit of manpower and could be (often was) resisted - a nuke is one bomb that cannot be fought or escaped.

    20,000 people is not 'tiny', nor does the fact that people die from other causes lessen the need to deal with this cause of death. We put billions of $ into medicine. Alcohol, cars, planes etc are regulated.

    If lives can be be saved from guns we should act there too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 377.

    This is nuch a no brainer...But only in America could gun control be such a huge contentious isssue..get a grip America !

  • rate this

    Comment number 376.

    "...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."
    The principles at work are identical to Caesar's time. A legion wiped Carthage out, just as a nuke would.

    "But 20,000 people actually are dying annually."
    Tiny compared to other causes. Tiny

  • rate this

    Comment number 375.


    Yes the weapons are more advanced, but that is what makes the situation all the more dangerous. You forget as well, there are many more people now than there was back then and our population is quickly increasing. I don't think anyone can claim to KNOW what will happen, but like I told you from the very start, everyone's chances are better armed, more so in a large group/army.


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