The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Democratic-sponsored measures Tuesday to expand the nation's gun background check system and a Justice Department program that funds school security plans.
The 18-member committee approved the background check bill on a party-line vote of 10 to 8; the school security bill passed on a broader margin of 14 to 4.
The background check bill, sponsored by Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), lacks bipartisan support, and is seen as a placeholder as the New York lawmaker continues negotiating with moderate Republicans and Democrats on an alternative bill that would permit limited exceptions to the background check program for firearm transfers between family members and possibly close friends.
"This isn’t going to be a perfect bill, but it will sure reduce crimes," Schumer said before the committee voted.
Republicans united in opposition, saying that Schumer's bill might overburden gun owners and do little to reduce gun-related crimes. They said they fear that might prompt Democrats to propose stricter gun measures, including confiscation of weapons.
"Why would anyone think that criminals would comply with broader background check requirements?" asked Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa). "They would be drawn more to straw purchases… the effectiveness of this bill is highly questionable."
Schumer shot back in response: "This idea that this will lead to national registration or confiscation, I have to tell you -- my good friend, Chuck Grassley -- that to me demeans the argument here."
Schumer also blasted Republicans for suggesting that the new bill would not deter criminals from continuing to violate federal gun laws -- saying that the GOP never makes such arguments when the Senate debates new laws to curb terrorism or financial crimes.
"We never see the argument, 'Oh, we shouldn’t have laws, because the bad people will get around it anyway.' Only on this issue – and it makes no sense, with due respect," he said.
Expanding the nation’s background check system earned the broadest public support in a Washington Post-ABC News poll released Tuesday morning. Nine in 10 Americans support requiring background checks on people buying firearms at gun shows. Eight in 10 strongly support closing the “gun show loophole” — a six-point jump from a similar poll in January. New background check legislation has strong support from gun-owning and non-gun-owning households, the poll found.
The committee also quickly approved a bill by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to reauthorize and expand a Justice Department program that would provide $40 million in grants to eligible school districts for security plans. Boxer originally proposed expanding the program to $100 million, but she scaled back her request in order to earn more GOP support, according to aides familiar with negotiations.
The Boxer bill does not mandate posting armed guards at schools, but eligible school districts could use some of the federal money to pay for armed guards. Public support for armed guards at the nation’s schools is slightly less popular now (50 percent) than in a similar Post-ABC poll from January (55 percent). Support for armed guards in the most recent poll dropped by 10 points among gun-owning households while non-gun households remain evenly split.
The Post-ABC News poll also found that the nation is evenly split between President Obama and congressional Republicans over whom it trusts to handle the issue of gun control.
On gun control, Obama is trusted by 42 percent of Americans, compared with 41 percent who trust Republicans, the poll said. Demonstrating a continued divide, those in gun-owning households trust Republicans over Obama by more than two to one (56 percent to 26 percent), while those in non-gun-owning households are nearly a mirror image (58 percent trust Obama; 26 percent trust Republicans).
The Judiciary Committee postponed debate until Thursday on the most controversial measure, a proposed ban on hundreds of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips. The bill's lead sponsor, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), also chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, which had a hearing scheduled for the same time Tuesday morning.
Follow Ed O'Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost