Skip to main content

Senate panel agrees to new legislation on guns

By Tom Cohen, CNN
updated 6:20 PM EST, Thu March 7, 2013
 The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would toughen laws on gun trafficking and straw purchases of firearms.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would toughen laws on gun trafficking and straw purchases of firearms.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The Senate Judiciary Committee will reconvene on Tuesday
  • The panel chairman also backs advancing a new ban on military-style weapons
  • One proposal targeting gun trafficking and straw purchases wins endorsement
  • Republicans raise questions about the need for some of the tougher laws

Washington (CNN) -- A bill that would toughen laws on gun trafficking and straw purchases of firearms won approval on Thursday from the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The measure now goes to the full Senate for consideration. It is the first proposal of its kind to begin moving through the legislative process since the Connecticut school shootings in December that killed 20 first-graders.

President Barack Obama and top Democrats are seeking a package of tougher gun measures that is opposed by the influential National Rifle Association, many Republicans and some Democrats.

Polls show public support for expanded gun laws, and advocates have mounted a major campaign to pressure Congress to act in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre and other mass shootings in recent years.

Study links gun laws and lower gun mortality

Snoop: We are guilty of promoting guns
Gabby Giffords visits place she was shot
Man spills secrets of illegal gun trade
School district allows guns for teachers

At Thursday's meeting, the Senate panel also considered other gun proposals, including a new ban on semi-automatic weapons modeled after military assault rifles.

It recessed before voting on the other measures as some members left to attend a classified meeting. The committee later announced it would reconvene next Tuesday to continue consideration of the gun legislation.

The legislation it approved would make it harder for Mexican drug cartels to get their hands on guns sold in the United States and would punish those buying firearms or ammunition for criminals, said the committee's chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont.

It would also stem the flow of guns purchased legally in one state from reaching people in other states where they are not legally allowed to own them, said Leahy, one of the bill's authors.

Members voted 11-7 to send the proposal to the full Senate, with Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the committee's top Republican, joining Democrats in support.

A separate proposal by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, to update the 1994 assault weapons ban that expired a decade later appeared headed for approval despite strong opposition by Republicans.

Leahy, who had expressed concerns about the new ban, said he would support sending it to the full Senate so the debate could continue.

Will states go where Congress hasn't on gun laws?

However, Feinstein's proposal is considered unlikely to overcome an expected Republican filibuster in the Senate.

"It's not going to achieve the goal its sponsors believe it will," argued Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, at the committee meeting.

He noted a study that showed the previous ban, which existed for 10 years, did little to reduce firearms violence, asking "are we really going to pass another laws that has zero effect and pat ourselves on the back?"

Feinstein contended her proposal would prohibit the kind of weapon used by a lone gunman in the Connecticut shooting.

The intent of the measure, which also would limit ammunition magazines to 10 rounds, was to "dry up" the supply of such firepower, she said.

Opponents including the NRA say such a ban violates the constitutional right to bear arms, while Feinstein and other supporters that include law enforcement groups note the previous ban survived several legal challenges.

The 1994 ban, which she also sponsored, expired a decade later when Congress didn't renew it.

On another issue, Republicans on the panel have expressed support for expanding the scope of mental health information submitted to the federal background check system used by gun sellers.

Gun checks top two million for fourth-straight month

However, they differ with Democrats on other aspects of expanding background checks. Bipartisan talks have failed so far to come up with a compromise that would address the "gun show loophole," which critics say provides an avenue for people who know they cannot pass a background check to obtain guns through private sales.

The proposal advanced on Thursday targeted straw purchases, which often are made by a person assisting someone who is unable to legally buy a gun or doesn't want the weapon traced back to his or her name.

It is currently a federal crime to knowingly purchase a firearm illegally. Those convicted could face 10 years in jail and a fine of up to $250,000. The proposal would expand the law to ensure the straw purchaser was criminally liable.

Leahy has said the measure would help prevent repeats of deadly bungles that occurred during the notorious "Operation Fast and Furious" by giving border patrol agents a solid legal framework for catching smugglers.

During "Fast and Furious," agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives attempted to apprehend smugglers by allowing them to purchase guns with recorded serial numbers in Arizona and transport them toward the border with Mexico in hopes of intercepting them.

Agents lost track of nearly 2,000 firearms, some turning up at the scenes of killings in Mexico. Two rifles from the program were found at the site of a December 2010 gun battle in Arizona that killed U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.

It was not clear whether either of them was used to shoot Terry.

Complete coverage: The gun debate

CNN's Todd Sperry and Ben Brumfield contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:45 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones, the president and acting CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, discuss the lethal mix of domestic violence and guns.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Fri May 30, 2014
Gun rights and gun control advocates largely agree there should be restrictions on mentally ill people obtaining firearms. The case of Myron Fletcher illustrates how difficult it is to put that into practice.
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed a wide-ranging gun bill into law Wednesday that has critics howling and proponents applauding.
updated 6:52 AM EDT, Thu June 13, 2013
Six months after a gunman burst into a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school and slaughtered 20 children and killed six others, promises of stricter national gun control laws remain largely unfulfilled.
updated 2:44 PM EDT, Wed June 25, 2014
Next time there's a mass shooting, don't jump to blame the National Rifle Association and lax gun laws. Look first at the shooter and the mental health services he did or didn't get, and the commitment laws in the state where the shooting took place.
updated 7:20 AM EDT, Sat June 8, 2013
The sign at the door of the Colt factory displays a gun with a slash through it: "No loaded or unauthorized firearms beyond this point." Understandable for workers at a plant, but also a bit ironic, considering one of the largest arsenals in America lies just beyond.
updated 7:18 AM EDT, Sat June 8, 2013
Much attention has been paid to the defeat in Congress of proposals to ban assault weapons and expand background checks for firearm purchases.
updated 9:04 AM EDT, Sat June 29, 2013
Morgan Spurlock's "Inside Man" gives CNN viewers an inside and in-depth look at the issue of firearms -- as viewed from behind the counter of a gun store. Here are five things to know about the debate.
updated 1:28 PM EDT, Mon May 5, 2014
The Supreme Court continued its recent hands-off approach on gun control, refusing to accept a challenge to New Jersey's restrictions on carrying weapons in public.
updated 11:02 AM EDT, Thu April 18, 2013
The Senate defeated a compromise plan to expand background checks on firearms sales as well as a proposal to ban some semi-automatic weapons modeled after military assault weapons.
updated 8:03 PM EDT, Thu April 11, 2013
As Congress grapples with major gun control legislation proposals, brothers and sisters, mothers, fathers and children write about the people they loved and lost to gun violence and how it changed their lives.
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Thu April 11, 2013
Hear from both sides of the gun debate as opinions clash.
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Wed May 1, 2013
It was a bit awkward the first time Kate Daggett asked the question.
updated 9:41 AM EDT, Wed April 10, 2013
Many Americans and lawmakers are in favor of continuing or expanding background checks on gun purchases, but few understand how the checks work.
updated 3:35 PM EDT, Thu April 4, 2013
Still stinging from the shooting deaths at Sandy Hook, Connecticut lawmakers approved what advocacy groups call the strongest and most comprehensive gun legislation in the nation.
updated 9:53 AM EDT, Fri March 29, 2013
It took fewer than five minutes for Adam Lanza to squeeze off 154 rounds, upending life in Newtown, Connecticut, and triggering a renewed national debate over gun control.
Who should get them? Join the gun control debate and share your perspective on CNN iReport.
updated 11:24 AM EDT, Tue April 2, 2013
Before having children, she was a firm believer that guns were dangerous. Now this mother of three has a different perspective.
updated 6:54 PM EDT, Tue March 19, 2013
In the biggest fight over firearms since December's massacre at a Connecticut elementary school, gun-control advocates are poised to notch a victory in an unlikely place.
A former drug addict turned anti-violence crusader, and a man who lost his father in a temple shooting. These are just two of many in the conversation.
updated 1:22 PM EST, Fri February 1, 2013
At a town hall that brought all sides of the gun debate together, was there a consensus? Sort of.
updated 10:51 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
The federal background check system for gun buyers didn't stop a mentally ill man from buying a gun, which he used to kill his mother.
updated 7:37 PM EST, Thu January 31, 2013
In disputes over the future of gun laws, people espousing different positions often literally don't understand each other.
ADVERTISEMENT