The Senate Judiciary Committee has reported to the full Senate four bills intended to reduce gun violence:
- S. 54, the Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act of 2013, introduced by Senator Charles Schumer (NY-D), to make it a Federal crime to serve as a “straw purchaser,” or someone who buys a firearm with the intent of selling it to an individual who cannot pass a background check.
- S. 146, the School Safety Enhancements Act, introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer (CA-D), to provide communities and schools with resources to install classroom locks, lighting, fencing, reinforced doors, and other deterrent measures. The bill would also help schools conduct security assessments and training for students, teachers, and administrators, and allow schools to better coordinate with local law enforcement.
- S. 150, the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013, introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein (CA-D), to prohibit the sale, manufacture, transfer, and importation of 157 of the most commonly owned military-style assault weapons. The bill also bans an additional group of assault weapons that can accept a detachable ammunition magazine and have one or more military characteristics. In addition, it bans large-capacity magazines and other ammunition feeding devices that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
- S. 374, the Fix Gun Checks Act, to ensure that all individuals who should be prohibited from buying a firearm are listed in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), and to require a background check for every firearm sale.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (VT-D) said, “What we have accomplished in our committee work has been difficult, but we have not accepted that as an excuse to do nothing. We have listened to heart-wrenching testimony. We have opened the process to input from all, and we have proceeded methodically to search for commonsense answers to the recurring tragedy of gun violence.”
In praising the committee’s work, President Obama repeated his State of the Union mantra on gun violence, saying “Each of these proposals deserves a vote.”
It is unclear however, whether all of the committee-approved measures will be considered on the Senate floor and in what form ― as a package or as individual bills. Some senators have suggested breaking S. 150 into two separate bills, believing that the ban on large-capacity magazines has a better chance of passage than the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban that lapsed in 2004, which is deemed almost certain to fail.
Other gun-related bills that the Judiciary Committee did not consider are likely to be offered as amendments. One such measure is S. 480, introduced by Senator Lindsey Graham (SC-R), to improve the effectiveness of the NICS by clarifying reporting requirements related to adjudications of mental incompetency.
The spotlight now moves to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV-D), who will determine the best strategy for moving forward. Reid historically has opposed gun control legislation, but said after the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting in December, “We need to accept the reality that we are not doing enough to protect our citizens.”
Meanwhile, advocacy groups on both sides have geared up for a floor fight. Gun Owners of America are urging their supporters to tell their senators to block any motion to proceed on gun control legislation.
The dilemma for Majority Leader Reid is whether to bring a bill to the floor that he knows cannot pass and let the Republican opponents shoulder the blame, or to offer a bill that may survive a Senate vote but is far less stringent than what the President has implored Congress to at least consider.
For in-depth background on the gun control debate, see the March 2013 issue of Congressional Digest on Gun Violence Prevention.