Gun measure clears first Senate hurdle, but tougher ones await

 

McClatchy Newspapers

A Senate vote Thursday to proceed with debate on gun legislation cleared an important, early hurdle for supporters of firearms restrictions, but backers face huge and potentially insurmountable 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. Though the vote to proceed Thursday 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 Wednesday’s compromise on background checks. He and others wanted to see the exact language first.

“There hasn’t been enough explanation,” Corker said.

Polls reflected 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 Barack Obama, saw Thursday’s 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,” explained 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 relatives killed in the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. 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 Thursday vote was an important symbolic victory, illustrating that a broad coalition of 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,” 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.

Lesley Clark of the Washington Bureau contributed.

Email: ctate@mcclatchydc.com, dlightman@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @tatecurtis, @lightmandavid

Read more Politics Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
This undated handout photo provided by the Agriculture Department shows a seized Giant African Snail. The Giant African Snail eats buildings, destroys crops and can cause meningitis in humans. But some people still want to collect, and even eat, the slimy invaders. The Department of Agriculture is trying to stop them. Since June, USDA has seized more than 1,200 of the large snails, also known as Giant African Land Snails, all of them traced back to one person in Georgia who was illegally selling them.

    USDA seizes more than 1,200 illegal giant snails

    The giant African snail damages buildings, destroys crops and can cause meningitis in humans. But some people still want to collect, and even eat, the slimy invaders.

  •  
President Barack Obama listens to a question in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, where he spoke about the economy, Iraq, and Ukraine, before convening a meeting with his national security team on the militant threat in Syria and Iraq.

    Obama cautions against using force to solve crises

    Faced with deepening crises in the Middle East and Ukraine, President Barack Obama is putting the brakes on the notion that American military power can solve either conflict.

  •  
President Barack Obama pauses while speaking about the economy, Iraq, and Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, before convening a meeting with his national security team on the militant threat in Syria and Iraq.

    Russian fund with US advisers eludes sanctions

    As President Barack Obama warns of stepped-up economic punishments against Russia for its military incursions inside Ukraine, U.S. sanctions have so far avoided one prominent financial institution: the $10 billion Russian Direct Investment Fund, which has partnered with brand-name American companies and whose advisers include top U.S. and European private equity executives.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category