Reid begins move toward gun debate

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) plans to begin Thursday night the formal process of beginning the first congressional debate in more than a decade on limiting gun violence, setting up what is expected to be a heated debate for several weeks in April.

Reid announced that he will move a package of gun-related bills onto the legislative calendar and set it up as the first  order of business when the Senate returns from its two-week break over the Easter and Passover holidays. While the package will not include a ban on assault weapons -- Reid said Tuesday that proposal has less than 40 votes of support -- it will include provisions to impose a universal background check system; stricter federal criminal laws for gun trafficking; and provisions to improve school safety.

Coming in the wake of the December massacre at a Connecticut elementary school, the most aggressive provision remains the background-check proposal. A bipartisan collection of senators, led by Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), have been trying to reach a broad bipartisan agreement on the background checks but have hit a stumbling block on how to maintain records of private gun sales.

Reid remained hopeful that the senators could still reach a bipartisan deal, holding out hope that he could substitute that background-check proposal for the Democratic provision that was approved earlier this month by the Judiciary Committee.

“I hope negotiations will continue over the upcoming break to reach a bipartisan compromise on background checks, and I am hopeful that they will succeed,” Reid said in a statement. "If a compromise is reached, I am open to including it in the base bill. But I want to be clear: in order to be effective, any bill that passes the Senate must include background checks.” Reid reiterated that other issues will have amendment votes during a process that is likely to take several weeks of floor time.

“The bill I advance tonight will serve as the basis for opening debate. Once debate begins, I will ensure that a ban on assault weapons, limits to high-capacity magazines and mental health provisions receive votes, along with other amendments,” Reid said.

Paul Kane covers Congress and politics for the Washington Post.

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