Posted: Thursday, March 21st 2013 at 5:48pm
Gun control forces push for background checks
By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he will include a requirement for expanded background checks for firearms buyers in a gun control bill the Senate debates next month.
The Nevada Democrat says he hopes that during Congress' upcoming two-week break, senators will reach compromise on background check language with bipartisan support.
If not, Reid says in a statement that the Senate will vote on a stricter measure expanding the checks to virtually all private gun transactions, with few exceptions.
President Barack Obama and many gun control advocates consider an expansion of background checks the strongest step lawmakers could take to reduce firearms violence.
Opponents say the system is easily sidestepped by criminals and threatens creation of a government file on gun owners - which is illegal under federal law.
Also on Thursday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a leader of hundreds of mayors seeking stricter gun curbs, stepped up pressure on Congress to expand background checks, saying there it would save lives and win broad public support.
"The only question is whether Congress will have the courage to do the right thing, or whether they will allow more innocent people, including innocent children, to be gunned down," he said at a New York news conference.
"It's time for the political establishment to show the courage your daughter showed," said Vice President Joe Biden, standing beside Bloomberg and motioning to the nearby family of a substitute teacher among 26 first-graders and educators killed at Newtown.
Days ago, supporters of gun restrictions suffered a blow when Reid decided to exclude a proposed assault weapons ban from the gun bill the Senate will debate.
Reid said the ban lacked the 60 votes it would need and including it would risk defeat of the entire package. The ban's sponsor, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., plans to offer the provision as an amendment that seems certain to lose.
The overall gun bill appears sure to include language creating tougher penalties for illegal firearms trafficking and expanding school safety grants. Both received bipartisan support when they were approved earlier this month by the Senate Judiciary Committee and are considered effective by gun curb advocates, but some supporters of firearms restrictions say Congress should do more.
"Inadequate for the moment," said Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the group Bloomberg helps lead.
"The American public wants and is clearly calling for all those solutions," said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "Background checks is a vitally important part of that."
The committee also approved expanded background checks and the assault weapons ban on party-line votes.
Asked if the NRA would consider it a victory if the bill were limited to stronger gun trafficking laws and school safety provisions, NRA chief lobbyist Chris W. Cox said, "Is it promising that this discussion is moving away from gun control and toward school safety, enforcement and mental health? It's encouraging but it's still early in the process."
The NRA wants Congress to fund more armed guards at schools, step up prosecutions of people who file false gun applications and increase the federal background check system's access to state records of people with serious mental illness and other problems.
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