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 514.

    Leaving aside the massacres of the innocents and the gun suicides, there are 600+ accidental deaths from firearms each year in the U.S. I have been told by an American friend that there is another type of death called "suicide by cop" where you just take a gun and start firing it until the cops arrive to shoot you down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 513.

    @507 Praise Him

    Don't forget the one about stoning your disobedient children :Deuteronomy 21 18-21.

    Take those words with you today and spread them ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 512.

    493. Mike Ross

    The belief that "natural rights" exist is akin to belief in religion, so perhaps we might look at the level of religiousity in America as being a barrier to their accepting what many other nations see as common-sense? i.e. More guns and less gun control = more preventable gun deaths.

  • rate this

    Comment number 511.

    Got killing each other with guns down to a fine art too!

  • rate this

    Comment number 510.

    Amazing how many Europeans of a left wing persuasion are so obsessed with American domestic politics. I guess it's just another chance for the Euroleft to look down on Americans as a more primitive society when in fact Americans have embarrassed us and the rest of the world over the last couple of hundred years in terms of achievements in tech, science, medicine & just about everything else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 509.

    America has had it! Over the next decade, all the important decisions about the world will be made in Beijing and Mumbai. Without selling arms, America would have no exports.

    The only people who can turn this around are the American people, however on this issue, we see rational people turning real stupid!

  • rate this

    Comment number 508.

    I've learnt to disarm anyone with an automatic weapon with my bear hands and feet so i'll be safe.....

    Won't I...?

  • rate this

    Comment number 507.

    Guns are a product of a society which has lost it way.

    God gave us the breath of life.
    Our dominion over the earth implies responsibility.
    It is for us to treasure life and the earth.
    [Genesis 2:7]

    Read these words and taken them with you today, carry them close to your hear. Consider sharing with others.

    Let us love one another and let Him guide us on our journey.

  • rate this

    Comment number 506.

    As ever the words of the late great American commic, Bill Hicks, come to mind:

    The right to bear arms is only slightly less ridiculous than the right arm bears......

  • rate this

    Comment number 505.

    Its a psyche thing. All countries have one.
    The British are still mentally defending a nonexistant empire.
    The Americans are still mentally fighting the indians and the cowboys.
    The media has a lot to do with it. The rugged individualist, Rambo, the anti authoritarian hero figure, the Lone Ranger complex. The US has them all - and we copy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 504.

    Bill Hicks quote (one word removed)
    "Anyone - DUMB ENOUGH - to want to be in the military should be allowed in. End of story"
    My quote
    "Anyone - DUMB ENOUGH - to want to own a gun should never be allowed. End of story"
    Majority of shots fired from guns bought for self-defence are fired AT the person who bought the gun

  • rate this

    Comment number 503.

    The freedom to defend against nutjobs with guns is the very same freedom that puts guns in the hands of nutjobs in the first place.

    The problem with pro-gun Americans is they can't see further than the end of their own nose. If he has a gun I want two. If he has two guns I want three. If he has three guns I want four.

  • rate this

    Comment number 502.

    I had a look at the wiki on 2nd amendment. seems to me that it is anachronistic and should be repealed? Protects gun owner ship for the purpose of militias? USA now has a standing army. policeforce and part time soldiers. It made sense back then when; without gun ownership they couldnt have got their freedom. Not now? Unless u envision the need to overthrow a tyrannical govt? Then all unravels?

  • rate this

    Comment number 501.

    The 2nd amendment was indeed a decloration by the US colonists that they would raise their own army in defiance of the crown at a time when to do so was seen as treason by the king. Now the US has it's own regular army who bear arms, the 2nd amendment was never meant to apply to every man jack being armed to the teeth. It's the most mis-sold document in history with the exception of the bible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 500.

    The 2nd Amendment doesn't give US citizens a right to bear weapons on par with the Military. The Supreme court rulings of 2006 & 2010 do that. There are many ways to interpret the actual wording, some of them extremely restrictive. Trying to compare UK & US gun control is ridiculous, gun crime in UK has gone up since they were banned. 300 million genies won't all go back in the bottle.

  • rate this

    Comment number 499.

    477. Wise words. The policing of the rioting Means civilians must be armed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 498.

    It's an issue that, however bizarre it seems to most other countries, will not go away. Just like the old myths about cowboys, the US has this image of guns as symbols of freedom.

    You might as well try to dissuade the N.Koreans from believing in the divine power of their leaders. It ain't gonna happen [sic]

  • rate this

    Comment number 497.

    Gun companies are more concerned with profit then they are with lives.Nothing will change in the USA because of this primitive attitude to life.The most advanced and wealthiest country in the world and look at their third world attitude to their own poor and lower class concerning their health service.People die because they don't have enough health insurance-all for the rich- blow the poor.

  • rate this

    Comment number 496.

    The American issue of gun-violence is, in part, a result of the marginalised nature of their society. e.g. Lack of state support for the poor; breeding crime which the law-abiding citizen rightly wants to defend against. We see the same effect in other nations (South Africa is one) where marginalisation is more pronounced.

  • rate this

    Comment number 495.

    Anyone else noticed the crescent and star in the picture above and know why it is there?


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