WASHINGTON (AP) — A divided Senate Judiciary Committee approved a Democratic bill Tuesday expanding required federal background checks to nearly all gun purchases, giving President Barack Obama an early victory on curbing gun violence in a fight that still faces difficult odds.
The vote was 10-8, with all Democrats supporting the measure and every Republican opposing it.
As expected, the panel delayed voting on a plan by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to ban assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines. The committee was expected to approve that measure Thursday. Feinstein was chairing a separate intelligence hearing.
The background check measure would expand the requirement to firearms sales between private individuals, such as those that occur at gun shows. Currently, the checks are required only for sales by federally licensed firearms dealers.
"This isn't going to be a perfect bill. But it will sure reduce crimes," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., the bill's sponsor.
Schumer said he hopes he can strike a compromise on the measure with Republicans, which would enhance its chances of passing in the full Senate. The chamber is expected to consider gun legislation next month, and GOP lawmakers have shown little enthusiasm for expanding the requirement to private firearms transactions.
Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, top Republican on the Judiciary panel, said he believes the measure will ultimately lead to a federal registry of gun owners — which is illegal. He also said that requiring additional law-abiding citizens to face background checks would have limited impact on public safety.
"Mass shootings would continue to occur despite universal background checks," Grassley said. "Criminals will continue to steal guns."
The committee also approved a measure by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., providing $40 million a year for school safety programs. The vote was 14-4, with four Republicans joining Democrats in supporting the bill
The background check system is designed to prevent criminals, people with severe mental problems and others from getting guns.
Tuesday's meeting came five days after the panel approved Congress' first gun control measure since December's horrific shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school that left 26 students and educators dead.
The initial bill, brought forward by the Judiciary Committee's chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and others, establishes long prison terms for illegal gun traffickers and straw purchasers, people who buy a firearm for criminals or others forbidden to buy one.
Schumer's background check bill would exempt only a narrow range of transactions from the checks, such as transactions between immediate family members or weapons loaned temporarily during sporting events.
It would also renew the requirement that states and federal agencies report records on felons, people with major mental health problems, drug abusers and others to the federal background check system — something that many states and agencies do poorly.
Schumer had hoped to win GOP support for his measure, and he spent weeks bargaining with conservative Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who carries an A rating from the National Rifle Association. Those talks foundered.
Coburn's backing could have helped Schumer win support from other Republicans and moderate Democrats from states with large numbers of GOP voters — potentially crucial because the background check measure is likely to need 60 votes in the 100-member Senate. There are 55 Democrats, including two independents who usually side with them.
To pressure lawmakers, a dozen clergy members from Newtown collected 4,000 signatures of religious leaders from around the country on a letter asking them to support expanded background checks, an assault weapons ban and other restrictions. The letter was published Monday as an ad in the Des Moines (Iowa) Register and was addressed to Grassley. The group planned to run the ad elsewhere as well.
The letter said that after gun violence in Newtown and other places, "To refuse to take the steps we know would reduce harm is a violation of religious values so severe that we are compelled to speak out."
The NRA, which opposes the background check expansion, is encouraging its members to contact Congress, association spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said.
Leaders of the GOP-run House have said they will wait to act until the Senate passes legislation.
Democrats say background checks help keep criminals and others from getting weapons, and say keeping records of private sales is the only way to ensure that those checks are actually conducted. Currently, the government must destroy records of checks it conducts within a day, but gun dealers must maintain paper records of the transactions for 20 years.
Republicans oppose recordkeeping as a step toward a federal registry. They also argue that current laws need to be enforced better without imposing record-keeping requirements on additional gun buyers.
Since the federal background check system began in 1998, the government has received more than 118 million gun applications and turned down 2.1 million, or 1.8 percent, according to the Justice Department. The figures are through 2010.
Supporters of stronger curbs say those statistics show the large number of dangerous people denied firearms. They say extending the requirement to more sales would make it even more effective.
Opponents say broadening background checks would encourage more people to seek weapons illegally.
A 2004 survey of state prisoners involved in crimes that included guns showed that around 4 in 10 got their firearms from friends or family and nearly that many got them from unregulated street dealers. Only around 1 in 9 got them from licensed dealers.
JUNE 19 Former Saint Steve Gleason, who is paralyzed by ALS, released a statement Tuesday in response to the Atlanta radio station's skit making fun of him and the disease, this Picayune post reports. What did he say? He said he'd accepted the apology of the DJs who did it, notes that at least the incident has got people talking about ALS, and asks anyone who is burning to take action about it to do so -- by helping him fight ALS.
JUNE 19 Blogger Ian McGibboney takes a look at the Gleason incident in this post. He makes a good argument about the difference between having free speech and being free from consequences for your speech (which none of us is). He also admits that many of us got upset before we listened to the skit -- but lets us know that the reality is far worse than we can imagine. It was the incredibly bad judgment, even more than the actual speech, that probably got those DJs fired, he opines.
JUNE 19 Washington Post blogger Aaron Blake writes about Sen. Guillory's switch to the GOP in this post. He writes what most political watchers in Louisiana know: Guillory was a Republican before he decided to run for the senate seat in a mostly-D St. Landry district, and has switched back now that he plans to run for Lt. Gov. in a mostly-R state. But how come Blake missed Guillory's appearance on a TLC pageant show? Now that is a video we'd like to see. (Again).
JUNE 19 Here's another Washington Post blog post about a Louisiana politician, and it's just plain scathing. Ezra Klein says Jindal's Politico post was "insulting" to the intelligence of voters, and adds that Jindal is personifying the "stupid" he's railed against, by being an "elite" who convinces GOP activists of "things that aren't true." Me-ow.
JUNE 19 Here's Gov. Jindal's post in Politico, in which he asks the GOP to get over losing to Obama (again) and stop "the bedwetting." (Uh, what?) He gives his Republican buddies what is probably a nerd's idea of a coach's motivational talk, which starts with a list of accomplishments that they can't seem to exploit and ending with an absurd description of liberals that sounds like a character treatment for a Fox "News" movie scripted by Gordon Liddy. Sure, he's preaching to the choir, but even the choir's not this gullible.
JUNE 19 Lamar Parmentel read Gov. Jindal's post on Politico, but thinks it was so dumb it probably was published in the wrong paper. This post by Lamar on the Daily Kingfish opines that possibly Jindal's post was destined for the Onion -- because the governor couldn't possibly be serious here. If you listen closely, you can hear the staff of the Kingfish giggling.
JUNE 19 Blogger Robert Mann posts from Turkey, a country he has visited several times in the past few years. Mann gives an interesting overview of the current political and societal climate of the country, which -- if you're living under a rock and don't know -- is experiencing protests and turmoil these days. Mann promises to post as much as he can during his trip, which should be fascinating reading.
JUNE 19 Blogger CB Forgotston says the legislature is keeping the vicious cycle going with its funding of new buildings for the community college/technical college system. Universities across the state need maintenance and improvement on existing buildings, and the solution is to build new buildings at other schools? By the time the bonds are paid off, those buildings will be falling down, too, CB says.
Frank’s Casing Crew, now doing business as Frank’s International, will make its final appearance on ABiz’s list of the Top 50 Privately Held Companies in Acadiana this year, and once again, it will likely be at the top with more than $1 billion in annual revenues. The 75-year-old company specializing in tubular fabrication and installation services to the oil and gas industry plans to go public this year.
The defeat, or rather highjacking of House Bill 420 in the final days of this year's Legislative Session, say Reps. Vincent Pierre and Terry Landry, is the result of the propaganda spread by one unidentified local media outlet and an unnamed former state Representative, but nothing to do with the original legislation's lack of checks, balances or details.
He’s a singer. A songwriter. A piano man. A family man. He’s even got his own Wikipedia entry. He’s David Egan. And he knows ancient secrets about the monolithic stones of Stonehenge that he’s not willing to share.