The bill would make it a felony to buy a firearm with the intent of selling it to someone who cannot pass a background check.
The crime would be punishable with up to 25 years in prison.
A bipartisan group of senators introduced the bill Monday after merging competing proposals and earning more GOP support.
White House press secretary Jay Carney called the vote “an important bipartisan step toward implementing the president’s plan to reduce gun violence in this country.”
“The president is pleased Congress is taking steps to act,” Carney added. “We look forward to continuing to work with Congress on this and on other important pieces of legislation that are part of the president’s plan.”
Before the vote, some Republican committee members objected to voting so soon after the bill’s formal introduction.
“In our haste to try to show that we’re doing something, we end up creating that unintended consequence,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.).
But the panel’s ranking Republican, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), joined every Democrat in referring the bill to the full Senate. The committee is divided between 10 Democrats and eight Republicans.
After approving the gun-trafficking bill, the committee adjourned, citing the need for some members to attend a classified briefing on an unspecified matter. Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said he hoped to resume debate Friday or when the Senate returns from its weekend break.
In addition to the gun-trafficking bills, the panel is slated to consider a proposed ban on military-style assault weapons, which faces strong opposition from moderate Senate Democrats and all Republicans. The committee will also consider a bill from Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) to require background checks on all private and commercial firearm sales and a bill by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to expand a Justice Department program that provides federal dollars to school districts to revamp school security plans.
Before adjourning, Grassley signaled GOP opposition to the bill, noting that it would ban weapons “based on how guns look — not the damage they do.”
“The bill is not like passing a law that criminalizes speed,” he said. “It is like banning the manufacture of cars with hood ornaments from having the capacity of exceeding 65 miles per hour, while exempting trucks from the same requirement.”
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