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."


More on This Story

US gun debate


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 714.

    "The UK may have it's faults but in 2010 there were around 27 murders by firearm."

    I do agree with you and have marked you up but every year 200+ people are killed by knives in the UK. With 29,513 recorded offenses in 2011-12.

    We have nothing to brag about.

  • rate this

    Comment number 713.


    USA couldn't secure Baghdad or Afghanistan with all of their nukes, drones and aircraf, so don't do your intelligence such a disservice as to suggest 30 million angry armed Americans couldn't potentially tyrannical government down.

    In any civil war, some of the states themselves oppose tyrants, and much of the army and police would stand down because of oaths they swore.

  • Comment number 712.

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

  • Comment number 711.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 710.

    It's like banning all cars because of thieves who steal cars and joyride"

    What a nonsense argument. Guns have one sole purpose: to kill and to do so from a distance and with efficiency. Most people see no rational reason for owning one and can resolve disputes without them. Cars have a primary purpose of transportation which all of us need most of the time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 709.

    Timmy @690
    "naturally corrupt"

    Truthfully "all are liars"?
    You see the problem?

    People are 'corruptible', its called socialisation, frm egocentric to heroic, free-ride to democratic, and - unfortunately - back again

    Back again? Might think, only weak-minded, fanatic, psychopath. But consider. If life, livelihood, family, friends at stake, wiil you give-in?

    We go along with orders, 'for peace'

  • Comment number 708.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 707.

    @691. Leo

    "Gun ban in the UK led to an increase in gun violence and violent crime."

    "That is very debatable."

    I agree. Post-Dunblane: all handguns confiscated.

    In next ten years gun crime somewhere between doubled and quadrupled.

    NO connection. Criminals & gangs did what they always do: did crime with illegal black-market guns. They just did it MORE, for reasons totally unrelated to the ban.

  • rate this

    Comment number 706.

    696"Absolutely disgusting that everyone can post freely, -as long as it suits the BBC's left wing view of the world."

    "!disgusting that everyone can post freely!"

    Actually you are likely getting deleted for posting irrelevant, useless, and pitiable hatred of Europeans. Read the rules, its not rocket science. That or the mods simply decided you are a troll, which isn't a bad guess.

  • rate this

    Comment number 705.

    "As soon as I post, it gets deleted by the Eurotrash left wing Stasi"

    Try tuning the language down a bit, phrases such as the above could be construed as racist (I did't refer you).

    For the record, I generally really like americans, I've visited a few times and all I have met are lovely. Some of them though do make it seem like a country of arrogant nuts and don't do it any favours.

  • rate this

    Comment number 704.

    698. farkyss

    My comment about 'gang-related crime' was addressing the increase in violent crime during the period, not meaning that all violent crime is gang-related - which would be untrue. Reducing the number of guns available in the population is intended to reduce the violent death rate (and it works), not the overall rate of violence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 703.

    If you have a society where paranoia is a de facto requirement of being a citizen of that society, then an obsession with guns is inevitable. Just as long as the USA is restrained to killing its own people with its own guns, the rest of the world will be a safer place. But, unfortunately, the USA exports is paranoia and gun culture to the rest of the world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 702.

    Absolutely disgusting that everyone can post freely, go off topic & discuss history as long as it suits the BBC's left wing view of the world.
    Yes, freedom of speech is disgusting isn't it, especially if others don't agree with you and you supper from conspiracy paranoia.

  • rate this

    Comment number 701.

    689.Donald Deed

    Let me make sure I understand this. You believe that the right wants the UK to be the 51st state - but you cannot produce a single piece of evidence to support your claim?

    That's a really odd way to decide what you believe, if you don't mind me saying. However do you decide what is true and what is false?

  • rate this

    Comment number 700.

    The Canadians supplied Britain from the onset. I believe they had more of a stake in the saving of Britain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 699.

    692. Peter_Sym

    And the US's motives were not exclusively altruistic: their national interests would be severely compromised if either the Nazis OR the USSR gained control of Europe. If they had not entered the war in Europe they had no need to develop the A bomb and had either Hitler or Stalin gained control of Europe the scientists to build one AND rockets to deliver it were available to them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 698.

    "gang-crime appears to be largely to blame."

    Well I'm glad you realise that law-abiding citizens owning firearms isn't to blame for gun violence, so why can other people not see that, and why are they obsessed with throwing out the baby with the bathwater? It's like banning all cars because of thieves who steal cars and joyride.

  • rate this

    Comment number 697.

    678. Little_Old_Me
    Too true - the 2nd Ammendment DOES NOT even say it is every man's right to carry a gun. It merely says each State has th right to have a millitia in case the Federal Govt. every gets too upity."


    "the right of the PEOPLE to KEEP and BEAR Arms, shall not be infringed."

    I hate to rain on your parade, but every man's right to keep & carry a gun is *exactly* what it says.

  • Comment number 696.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 695.

    I lived in Switzerland from my mid teens to my mid twenties. Many of my friends had guns. We used to get drunk and shoot. I attended at least 2 funerals of people who got shot by accident.


Page 1 of 36


More US & Canada stories



Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.