Embattled gun measure clears 1st Senate hurdle
WASHINGTON — A Senate vote on Thursday to proceed with debate on gun legislation cleared an important, early hurdle for supporters of firearms restrictions, but backers will confront huge obstacles in the days and weeks ahead.
The Senate plans next week to consider some of the most far-reaching gun control measures Congress has debated in more than a decade. Next up are proposals to strengthen background checks, due for a vote Monday or Tuesday, followed by efforts to ban assault weapons, to restrict the size of ammunition clips and more.
The Senate hopes to finish work on the measure by April 26.
Getting strong gun control legislation is going to be tough. Although the vote to proceed passed by a bipartisan 68-31 vote, eight more than needed, many senators made it clear they were voting only to keep going, not to endorse any specific measures.
“This needs to be debated,” explained Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.
But he, like many gun rights advocates, would not even commit to backing the compromise on Wednesday on background checks. He and others wanted to see the exact language first.
“There hasn't been enough explanation,” Corker said.
Polls reflect the uncertainty. A CNN/ORC survey April 5-7 showed overwhelming support for background checks — but not all kinds. Nearly nine in 10 people backed tough checks for purchases from a gun store or other business. But that dropped to 70 percent for purchases from an individual and sank to 54 percent for guns bought from a family member or given as gifts.
The compromise forged this week by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., would not make background checks universal, as gun control advocates have sought. Their amendment would apply to gun show sales and online purchases but would exempt private transactions between friends and family members.
Still, gun control supporters, including President Obama, values the vote as an important step forward. Sixteen Republicans joined 50 Democrats and two independents in favor of the procedural motion, while two Democrats — Alaska's Mark Begich and Arkansas' Mark Pryor — joined 29 Republicans in opposing it.
“I've long believed we don't need more laws restricting the Second Amendment rights of Americans; we need to better enforce those on the books,” said Begich, who faces a tough re-election next year.
The vote was a setback for the National Rifle Association, a politically powerful group that had sought to keep the legislation from getting to the Senate floor.
“We are turning the page against the NRA's dominance,” Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said in an appearance with victims of gun violence and their families before the vote.
After the vote, the president spoke with family members of those killed in the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. He “congratulated the families on this important step forward,” according to White House press secretary Jay Carney.
“The bipartisan progress would not have been possible without their efforts,” Carney said. “He reiterated that much work remains and pledged to continue fighting for the votes they deserve.”
Obama, like other gun control backers, praised the victims' families, which have been meeting this week with senators, for having an important effect on the outcome.
They “may well have been decisive,” Carney said. “The president has said all along, and you heard him in Hartford on Monday, that Congress will do the right thing if the American people speak up.”
But though the vote was an important early victory, illustrating that lawmakers were at least willing to debate the bill, there's little agreement on much else.
The NRA, as well as major conservative groups, are watching closely and vowing to remind their members how lawmakers voted.
However, several groups pushing for tighter gun laws are fighting back. They have major backing from billionaire New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who might serve as a counterweight to two decades of NRA influence on gun issues.
“The ground is shifting politically as we speak,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., called the vote a “breakthrough.”
The next hurdle will be trying to get agreement on what amendments will be taken up. Gun rights advocates are preparing their own proposals, believed to involve more funding for mental health, among other proposals.
Gun control backers know such proposals might gain considerable support, and by voting for them, on-the-fence senators could claim they voted for gun safety and not take the tougher votes. But without allowing such plans to come to a vote, supporters risk procedural tie-ups.
The supporters' best hope is that the mood that prevailed this week continues: that for or against gun control, at least there should be a debate.
“I hope we don't have to go through this procedural mishmash,” said Senate Majority Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Suspect in killings of wealthy D.C. family arrested
- Senators push for full funding for Amtrak
- Dogs split from the wolf pack earlier than thought, DNA analysis suggests
- Eldest Duggar child admits to molesting girls as teen
- Obama trade bill advances in Senate
- 6 Baltimore officers indicted in Gray’s death
- California Congresswoman Sanchez apologizes for Indian whooping-cry caricature
- Suspect in killings of wealthy DC family arrested
- Ex-Va. lawmaker plans to wed teen in sex scandal
- War trauma link to Alzheimer’s eyed
- Technology enhances view of Manhattan