Everything you need to know about the Senate’s gun bills

March 7, 2013

The Senate Judiciary Committee begins the process Thursday of debating four proposals to limit gun violence, the first formal consideration of legislation introduced in the wake of the mass shooting in December at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.


The committee is split between 10 Democrats and eight Republicans -- meaning the Democrats should be able to approve most of the legislation on a party-line vote.

1.) Assault Weapons Ban of 2013: Lead sponsor: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). Senate aides privately call this bill "a liberal's dream come true," and the proposal's ban of almost 60 specific military-style weapons and related parts is considered a bridge too far for moderate Democrats -- many of whom face reelection next year -- and all Senate Republicans.

The proposed ban goes much farther than the federal ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004. Feinstein's bill, which has 21 Democratic cosponsors, would ban the sale, transfer, manufacturing or importation of more than 150 specific firearms, including semiautomatic rifles or pistols that can be used with detachable or fixed ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds and have specific military-style features, including pistol grips, grenade launchers or rocket launchers.

It excludes more than 2,250 firearms used for hunting or other sport, but would require background checks for the sale or transfer of grandfathered weapons and would bar the sale or transfer of large-capacity feeding devices owned before the bill’s enactment. Current assault weapon owners also would need to safely store their firearms. Unlike the original federal ban passed in 1994, the new ban would be permanent.

If passed, the bill would constitute "the biggest gun ban in our history," Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said at the start of Thursday's hearing.

Will the bill make it out of committee? Maybe. Will the bill be approved by the full Senate? All signs suggest no.

2.) Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act of 2013: Lead sponsors: Sens. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine). This bipartisan group announced Monday that they had a deal in place to make gun trafficking -- or the practice of illegally purchasing firearms for someone else -- a federal crime for the first time.

If approved, the bill would enact penalties of up to 20 years for “straw purchasers” -- people who buy a firearm for someone legally barred from doing so — a group including felons and illegal immigrants. The bill also would punish the person who illegally sells weapons to a straw purchaser. The agreement essentially merges elements of two previously gun-trafficking proposals: a Leahy bill that included punishments for straw purchasers and a bill cosponsored by Gillibrand and Kirk to punish the person selling the weapon to a straw purchaser.

Will the bill clear the committee? It did, by a vote of 11 to 7. Will it be approved by the full Senate? Likely, because it is the only proposal to limit gun violence to enjoy so much bipartisan support.

3.) Protecting Responsible Gun Sellers Act of 2013: Sponsor: Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). Breaking from weeks of bipartisan negotiations on the issue of expanding background checks, the New York Democrat broke away from the talks late Wednesday and reintroduced a bill mandating background checks on all gun sales, private or commercial.

Such a broad mandate is opposed by the senators who were negotiating a bipartisan compromise with Schumer -- Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Joe Manchin III (D-W. Va.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) -- but the group still expects to find more GOP support for their bipartisan alternative.

Meantime, the Judiciary Committee will consider Schumer's own proposal, which Manchin said he won't support “in any way, shape or form."

Will the bill clear the committee? Considering the more liberal makeup of the Democratic side, maybe. But will it ever be voted on in the full Senate? Likely not -- and if a vote was held, it likely would fail.

4.) School Safety Enhancements Act of 2013: Sponsor: Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).  Versions of this bill have been introduced by the California Democrat before and her plan comes closest to addressing the National Rifle Association call to place armed guards at every U.S. school.

Boxer's plan would require the Justice Department and Education Department to draft new school safety guidelines and provide up to $100 million to help schools implement new security plans. The bill essentially expands the Justice Department's COPS Secure Our Schools grants program, which already provides money to schools for tip lines, surveillance cameras and other security tools.

The grant program currently requires eligible school districts to find a 50 percent local funding match -- either through local, state or private funding. Boxer's bill would allow the federal government to provide up to 80 percent of the funding to cash-strapped school districts.

The White House has endorsed the proposal, in part because national polling suggests broad support for enhancing school security programs. And many Democratic lawmakers, see the bill as a potential area of common ground with Republicans who otherwise oppose stricter firearms restrictions.

But Grassley has already signaled concerns with the new costs associated with the bill, something that might limit GOP support. Will the bill get voted out of committee? Maybe,- but Democrats will have to assure skeptical Republicans about its costs. Would it pass the full Senate? Again, only if the costs are addressed.

Agree or disagree with the analysis? Share your thoughts on the bills in the comments section below.

Follow Ed O'Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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