The Washington Post

Senate panel approves gun background check, school security bills

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday approved Democratic-sponsored measures to expand the nation’s gun background check system and a federal program that funds school security plans, action that comes as most Americans continue to support stricter firearm laws, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The 18-member committee referred the background check bill to the full Senate on a party-line vote of 10 to 8 and later passed the school security measure 14 to 4. Scheduling conflicts with other committee hearings postponed until Thursday a showdown on the most controversial proposal under consideration, a ban on hundreds of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips.

The background check bill, sponsored by Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), lacks bipartisan support and is considered a placeholder as the lawmaker negotiates with moderate Republicans and Democrats on an alternative measure that would exempt firearm transfers between relatives and possibly close friends.

“This isn’t going to be a perfect bill, but it will sure reduce crimes,” Schumer said before the vote.

Republicans united in opposition, saying the measure might overburden gun owners and prompt Democrats to propose stricter firearm legislation, including the confiscation of weapons, if it doesn’t curb gun violence.

Most support background checks, assault weapons ban

“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.”

In response, Schumer blasted Grassley for suggesting that the new measure would not deter criminals from breaking the law, saying that the GOP never makes such arguments when the Senate debates legislation 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 the new Post-ABC poll. Nine in 10 Americans favor requiring background checks on firearm purchases at gun shows. Eight in 10 strongly support closing the “gun show loophole” — a six-point jump from a similar survey 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 Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) to reauthorize and expand a Justice Department program that would provide $40 million in grants to eligible school districts for security plans. The original measure proposed expanding the program to $100 million, but it was scaled back to gain more GOP support, according to aides familiar with the negotiations.

The Boxer-Collins bill does not mandate posting armed guards at schools, but eligible school districts could use some of the federal money to pay for them. Public support for armed guards at the nation’s schools is slightly less 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 percentage points among gun-owning households, while non-gun households remain evenly split.

The survey found wide support for making illegal gun sales a federal crime. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill last week that would make purchasing a firearm for someone else a federal crime. Large majorities support federal penalties for illegal sales.

The poll also found that the nation is evenly split between President Obama and congressional Republicans over whom it trusts to handle gun control. Obama is trusted by 42 percent of Americans, compared with 41 percent who trust Republicans. Demonstrating a continued divide, those in gun-owning households trust Republicans over Obama by more than 2 to 1 (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).

Separately, a poll by the Pew Research Center released Tuesday found that gun owners cite protection as their top reason for owning firearms. Nearly half of gun owners said protection was the main reason for owning a gun, followed by 32 percent of people who said they own firearms for hunting. That’s a flip from a Post-ABC poll taken in 1999, when nearly twice as many cited hunting.

Gun owners overwhelmingly say that owning a gun makes them feel safer (79 percent) and that it is something they enjoy (78 percent). Almost six in 10 people with no gun in their home say firearms would make them uncomfortable, with many offering concerns about accidents with children or safety in general.

Clement is a pollster with Capital Insight, the independent polling group of Washington Post Media. Jon Cohen and Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report.

Discuss this topic and other political issues in the politics discussion forums.

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.
Scott Clement is the polling manager at The Washington Post, specializing in public opinion about politics, election campaigns and public policy.

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