WASHINGTON – Although the more controversial assault weapons ban remains stalled, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill Tuesday that would require universal background checks on gun buyers, sending the measure to the full Senate for a vote.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., submitted his version of the background check to the committee after talks to produce a bipartisan bill fell apart last week.
After the tragedy in Newtown, Schumer said, “There was a view that maybe the only thing we can come together on was universal background checks. This isn’t going to be a perfect bill, but it’ll sure reduce crime.”
The bill strengthens the existing background check system, which is often criticized for a lack of organization and reliability. Schumer’s bill provides resources to states so that they can streamline their systems and ensure they contain complete lists of those prohibited from purchasing guns. It also pars gun owners from conducting private sales without background checks as often occurs at gun shows. The only exception would be a gift between family members.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, blasted Schumer’s plan, insisting such checks would infringe on the rights of law-abiding gun owners while criminals would still find ways to get weapons. Grassley said he feared that a byproduct of the background check system would be a “gun registry,” which he said could lead to confiscation of guns.
“Obviously, criminals do get guns,” Grassley said, echoing earlier testimony from National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre. “They obtain them because they do not comply with background checks.”
But a frustrated Schumer criticized Grassley’s logic.
“On terrorism, on robbery, on murder, on money laundering, we don’t hear anyone say, ‘We shouldn’t have laws because the bad people will get around them,’” Schumer said.
Schumer, a long-time advocate of gun control, has been in private talks for weeks over the legislation, but he lost GOP support from Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill. when negotiations failed.
The bill was reported out of committee in a 10-8 party-line vote.
Senators were unable to move ahead on the assault weapons ban due to a scheduling conflict with bill the sponsor, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who had to attend an Intelligence Committee hearing.
The committee also approved the School and Campus Safety Enhancements Act, introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. The bill provides more money for safety equipment, and establishes a task force in the Education Department to write advisory guidelines for schools. The only mild opposition came from Grassley, who expressed concern that funds might be mismanaged.
“This isn’t some scheme Chuck Grassley thought up, this is from the government accountability office,” Grassley said. When his concerns were addressed, the measure was passed 11-4 in a bipartisan vote.