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 414.

    UKL_UK Libertarian

    That's precisely what Hitler said; he wouldn't mess with Europe's "little porcupine".


    Let's some evidence that he said that?

    Hitler had plans to invade Switzerland once the rest of Europe was subdued (Operation Tannenbaum)

    German propoganda said "We'll take Switzerland, the small porcupine, on our way back home!"

    Keep smashing those square pegs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 413.

    False. The UK's violent crime rate, including murder, surged 44% after strict gun laws enacted after Dunblane. Same for Australia after Port Arthur. See 391.

    As for Adam Lanza: This new bill wouldn't have stopped his Mum buying guns legally, which he could steal.
    Criminals don't obey the law, but you keep hoping that they'll start obeying them. They never do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 412.

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

    Do you mean the second amendment?

    Whatever your views on gun ownership & the (frankly outdated & irrelevant) second amendment, will people please stop quoting as 'fact' that murder rates are higher in civilised countries with gun control that without!

  • rate this

    Comment number 411.

    387. Greg
    "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?"

    They are armed! Vast numbers of them are in the military, armed and ready to kill on behalf of the "Dear Leader"! Tyranny is maintained by promoting perceived threats. "To arms we need to protect ourselves from the evil tyrant... the USA!". Ironic, yes?

  • rate this

    Comment number 410.

    Silly little boys like to play with guns, oblivious to the fact that guns kill people.

    Dear rednecks, please grow up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 409.

    The horrific event in CT has revealed a lot about the people of America. It appears that nothing will change their minds on their 'right' to own guns.

    Not even the sense of banning assault rifles (and just having small and hunting arms) doesn't seem negotiable It's sad to say this but to the people of America, it seems the deaths of 20 children is just another part of life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 408.

    387 Greg

    The First Amendment is about free speech.

    The Second Amendment is about the right to bear arms - written so that, if necessary, a regulated militia could be quickly formed to defend the fledgling Republic. Nowadays the regulated militia has been superseded by the National Guard.

    The Second Amendment is now just rhetoric that the NRA hide behind to keep the profits from gun sales high.

  • rate this

    Comment number 407.

    "UKL_UK Libertarian
    Your history is awful to be frank"

    Yours continues to be awful and selective: ignoring the vast number of instances that don't support your world view and cherry picking, and deliberately misinterpreting, those that do.

    Switzerland wasn't invaded by the Nazis because it wasn't necessary and he Wehrmacht was pre-occupied, not because of its citizen army.

  • rate this

    Comment number 406.

    In the USA a man is allowed to protect his family from criminals with armed force. In the UK we have to die in our beds if we get burgled by an armed robber. Of course the top UK politicians who make the rules are protected 24hrs a day by armed special branch officers. What a bunch of hypocrits. In the UK the PC obsessed politicians will always but the mugger first and the victim second.

  • rate this

    Comment number 405.

    Note the part that said 3,300 people in Connecticut alone were killed by guns since December - that would be around 8-9,000 per year in one state alone - 1/3rd of which are classed as homicide.

    a UN report shows the US has 3.2 homicides (by gun) per 100,000 where the UK has 0.04.

    I think that's all the information you need to draw a conclusion on whether gun control works.

  • rate this

    Comment number 404.


    It's all relative.

    Gun control countries have high violent crime + increased stabbings.


    You ban the rifle, the next kid will come in with the next best weapon and that will be banned. Then next and so on until handguns go as well. The first ban will snowball. The main reason for keeping those guns is protection from at tyrannical government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 403.

    I wish the UK had similar rights to bear arms as the states, If we had maybe we wouldn't be such a soft touch etc....

  • rate this

    Comment number 402.

    I don't understand why people need to have automatic and semi automatic rifles. I can understand semi automatic hand guns but military grade rifles is really pushing it.

    Lets also remember where the 2nd amendment comes from, it came out of a time when militias were required to defend the newly formed country, in 21st century America this really isn't the case any more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 401.

    But that just isn't true. The US murder rate is 4 times higher than the UK or China. Most industrialized countries with gun control have very low murder rates.

    Well i'm not American; I speak on these issues separately. If there is an article on Iran I'll bang on about how we shouldn't go in, and if there's one about Afghanistan i'll bang on about how we should get out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 400.


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

    History has shown time and again that once guns are banned anything goes.
    As any general will tell you, wining hearts and minds is what wins wars, guns can't do that. Unfortunately, guns have won the hearts and minds of too many Americans!

  • rate this

    Comment number 399.

    "Hitler didn't invade because the populous was armed"
    That's precisely what Hitler said; he wouldn't mess with Europe's "little porcupine". He had no such qualms about every other nations' "army" though did he.

    Why would it be more useful than a German bank under German guard. Hmm.

    Your history is awful to be frank. I disagree on every point. However, good luck to you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 398.

    391.UKL_UK Libertarian

    Total nonsense. The UK and most European countries with strict gun control have far lower murder rates than the USA. The accidental and self inflicted death rates are also considerably higher. More US citizens have died by citizen held guns in the past 20 years than in the US Civil War, WW1 and WW2 combined.

  • rate this

    Comment number 397.

    Guns only kill in the same way spoons make you fat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 396.

    In the US, even (ex-)cops (Christopher Dorner) go on the rampage with their guns. You can't trust anyone with a gun, you never know what might happen to them that triggers some sort of murderous reaction.

  • rate this

    Comment number 395.


    No, the hypocrisy of the US was my point. I was suggesting you were pro war. But the US is pro war as it's history of foreign policy shows quite spectacularly. To use the argument of saving lives in ones own country, when at the same time the country itself is responsible for all sorts of war crimes and has basically regarded itself accountable to nobody. It's disgraceful.


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