Senators delay consideration of gun legislation

Senators postponed consideration of legislation limiting gun violence for at least a week Thursday as members of both parties said they wanted more time to review the bills and potentially propose amendments.

The Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled the meeting to begin considering four bills sponsored by Democrats to expand the nation’s background check program for gun sales,  make gun trafficking a federal crime for the first time, bolster school security programs and ban hundreds of military-style assault weapons and parts.

The decision by to postpone consideration of the bills is typical and usually occurs when the committee is considering bills and judicial nominations, aides said. In this case, Republicans mostly had signaled that they would like more time to consider the proposals.

In light of the delay, Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said the panel would reconvene March 7 to begin considering the four bills, a process that will go "as late as necessary." He said he hopes the full Senate can begin debating whichever bills are approved by the committee before the end of March.

In requesting the delay, the committee's ranking Republican, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), listed several specific concerns with the bills. He said the assault weapons ban "raises a lot of constitutional questions" and that he will wait to receive answers to questions put to witnesses at a hearing on the bill Wednesday. Noting the current debate over sequestration, Grassley also expressed concern about the potential costs of the bill that would provide more federal money for school security programs.

But in a sign of potential bipartisan agreement, Grassley hinted that at least some Republicans might be able to support the background check proposal.

"I think many of us could support the current language of that bill," Grassley said.

The words "current language" are critical, however, because the bill's lead sponsor, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) is looking to rewrite the bill to force gun dealers to keep records of private firearm transactions. Schumer is expected to use the next week to continue negotiations with potential Republican co-sponsors, including Sens. Tom Coburn (Okla.) and Mark Kirk (Ill.). Coburn has said he cannot support a bill that mandates records of private sales.

Separately, the committee referred three judicial nominees and one Executive Branch nominee to the full Senate and delayed consideration of other picks at the request of Republicans.

RELATED: What would the proposed assault weapons ban actually ban? Watch this "Edsplainer," below:

Follow Ed O'Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.

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