thursday, 18 april of 2013

US: Senate Scuttles Gun Limits

Gun control

Senate Scuttles Gun Limits

The biggest push in nearly two decades to restrict firearms in the U.S., touched off by the emotional response to December's mass shooting of schoolchildren, collapsed in the Senate on Wednesday, scuttling a major element of President Barack Obama's second-term agenda.

The centerpiece of a Democrat-led gun-control effort—a plan to expand the system of background checks aimed at detecting buyers ineligible to own guns—failed in a 54-46 vote, six votes shy of the 60 needed to advance. Shortly afterward, the Senate blocked a proposal to ban the manufacture and sale of certain semiautomatic rifles often called assault weapons and ban high-capacity ammunition magazines. It drew 40 votes, with 60 senators opposed.

Mr. Obama denounced the Senate action in the White House Rose Garden, where he was joined by victims of gun violence, including former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D., Ariz.), who was gravely injured in a mass shooting. "This was a pretty shameful day for Washington. But this effort is not over," the president said.

Supporters of the background-check measure had hoped the co-sponsorship of Sen. Pat Toomey, a conservative Republican from Pennsylvania, would draw in his party colleagues. But only four GOP senators joined 50 of the Senate's 55 Democrats and independents in support.

Wednesday's votes showed that little has changed in the politics of gun control in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., shootings, which left 20 children and six adult staff members dead at an elementary school, as well as the attacker's mother. Support for tighter laws is strong among most Democrats, but Republicans and those Democrats from GOP-leaning states proved reluctant to vote to tighten access to firearms.

The Senate isn't expected to take a final vote on its package of gun-control legislation, in essence leaving the issue tabled. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) took a procedural step Wednesday that would enable lawmakers to return to the bill if dynamics changed.

But that prospect seemed unlikely, and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives is unlikely to initiate any gun-control legislation in the absence of a Senate-passed bill.

The amendments needed 60 votes to pass under an agreement between party leaders designed to avoid time-consuming filibusters. The procedural agreement meant that amendments by both parties required 60 votes to advance, rather than a simple majority.

Lawmakers opposing tighter gun laws said they were representing the will of their constituents. Some opponents had worried that records kept of background checks could enable the government to compile a national list of gun owners and potentially seize their firearms.

"There are many different perspectives on this issue, and passions are high on all sides," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.). "The government should not punish or harass law-abiding citizens in the exercise of their Second Amendment rights."

In a statement Wednesday, the National Rifle Association said the measure would have criminalized the transfers of firearms between "honest citizens" and wouldn't have reduced violent crime. It said the group would continue to work to protect children and prosecute violent criminals.

Support for the measure had ebbed over the week, with late-emerging opposition from Republican Sens. Dean Heller of Nevada and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire all but extinguishing the hope of supporters. Mr. Obama called both GOP senators on Tuesday to try to win them over.

The amendment was rejected by four Democratic senators from GOP-leaning states: Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Max Baucus of Montana and freshman Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. All but Ms. Heitkamp face re-election next year in states that Mr. Obama lost in 2012 by double-digit margins. Mr. Reid also voted against the measure, citing procedural reasons.

Guns are woven into the culture of Alaska, a vast, rural state. When Mr. Begich was in Alaska during a recent, two-week congressional recess, he was confronted in the airport and at virtually every event by constituents urging him to oppose the background-check legislation, according to aides.

In Mr. Pryor's case, Republicans have been looking to highlight gun rights as part of a broader argument that he is too liberal for a state that has turned more conservative in the five years since he was first elected.

While polling shows that a majority of the public favors stricter gun laws, surveys by The Wall Street Journal and NBC News suggest that the support peaked in February, two months after the Newtown shootings, and has since tapered, with 55% in an April survey favoring stricter laws and 43% saying laws should be less strict or remain as they are.

Just one-third of Republicans support stricter gun laws, Journal polls through this year show, a finding that helps explain why GOP senators and Democrats from GOP-leaning states opposed expanded background checks and other measures. Some 80% of Democrats favor stricter laws, Journal polling shows.

Support for the measure had ebbed over the week, with late-emerging opposition from Republican Sens. Dean Heller of Nevada and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire all but extinguishing the hope of supporters. Mr. Obama called both GOP senators on Tuesday to try to win them over.

The amendment was rejected by four Democratic senators from GOP-leaning states: Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Max Baucus of Montana and freshman Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. All but Ms. Heitkamp face re-election next year in states that Mr. Obama lost in 2012 by double-digit margins. Mr. Reid also voted against the measure, citing procedural reasons.

Guns are woven into the culture of Alaska, a vast, rural state. When Mr. Begich was in Alaska during a recent, two-week congressional recess, he was confronted in the airport and at virtually every event by constituents urging him to oppose the background-check legislation, according to aides.

In Mr. Pryor's case, Republicans have been looking to highlight gun rights as part of a broader argument that he is too liberal for a state that has turned more conservative in the five years since he was first elected.

While polling shows that a majority of the public favors stricter gun laws, surveys by The Wall Street Journal and NBC News suggest that the support peaked in February, two months after the Newtown shootings, and has since tapered, with 55% in an April survey favoring stricter laws and 43% saying laws should be less strict or remain as they are.

Just one-third of Republicans support stricter gun laws, Journal polls through this year show, a finding that helps explain why GOP senators and Democrats from GOP-leaning states opposed expanded background checks and other measures. Some 80% of Democrats favor stricter laws, Journal polling shows.

(Published by The Wall Street Journal, April 18, 2013)

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