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Senate panel approves gun trafficking bill with bipartisan support

The Senate Judiciary Committee moved ahead Thursday with the formal consideration of legislation to limit gun violence introduced in the wake of the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., approving a bill to make the practice of illegally purchasing firearms for someone else a federal crime for the first time

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who voted with Democrats to approve a gun trafficking bill. (Mandel Ngan - AFP/Getty Images)

The panel's 10 Democrats were joined by one Republican in approving the measure, which combines several proposals from Democratic and Republican senators to punish "straw purchasers," or people who buy a firearm for a someone who is legally barred from doing so, including felons and illegal immigrants. The bill also would punish the person who illegally sells weapons to a straw purchaser.

A bipartisan group of senators introduced the proposal on 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-Texas).

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.

In addition to the gun trafficking bills, senators began debating a proposed ban on military-style assault weapons, which faces strong opposition from moderate Senate Democrats and all Republicans.

The bill was written by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who earned praise from members of both parties for her years-long push to ban the weapons. But her bill also faced criticism for specifically targeting hundreds of weapons and features.

In voicing his objections, Grassley said the bill bans weapons "based on how guns look -- not the damage the 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."

The panel adjourned before midday Thursday, citing the need for some members to attend a classified briefing on an unspecified matter. Leahy said he hoped to resume debate later Thursday, but aides said the committee might not reconvene until next week.

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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