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Senate Blocks Attempt to Prevent Debate on Gun Legislation

April 11, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
With families of the Newtown shooting victims looking on, Congress moved closer to coming up with a comprehensive bill for reducing gun violence. The Senate blocked an attempt to prevent debate on the subject. Judy Woodruff reports on what measures the bill may include.
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JUDY WOODRUFF:  The full U.S. Senate officially took up gun control today.  Supporters swept aside a procedural hurdle and began what is likely to be a long struggle to craft a final bill. 

SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev., Majority Leader:  The hard work starts now. 

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid speaking moments after senators rejected efforts to prevent debate on new gun legislation.  It required at least 60 votes and the final margin easily exceeded that. 

MAN:  On this vote, the yeas are 68, the nays are 31. 

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Sixteen Republicans joined all but two Democrats in the majority.  Reid had acknowledged powerful feelings on both sides. 

Still, he said:

SEN. HARRY REID:  But whichever side you are on, we ought to be able to agree to exchange thoughtful debate about these measures.  Let’s engage in it. 

JUDY WOODRUFF:  The measures will include a compromise on federal background checks for would-be gun buyers.  Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey and West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin worked out language yesterday to expand the checks to firearms sales at gun shows and online. 

There could also be proposals on banning assault weapons and restricting high-capacity magazines, among other measures.  But a majority of Republicans today, including Senator John Cornyn of Texas, said it’s pointless to debate symbolic gestures. 

SEN. JOHN CORNYN, R-Texas:  I’m not going to vote to proceed to a bill that has not yet been written, no matter how well-intentioned it may be.  Rather than put on a show and pat ourselves on the back and call it a day, let’s do something good to make sure we have done everything in our human capacity to prevent another Sandy Hook. 

JUDY WOODRUFF:  And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the proposals that Democrats are pushing would violate Second Amendment rights. 

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky., Minority Leader:  I believe the government should focus on keeping firearms out of the hands of criminals and those with mental issues that could cause them to be a threat to our society.  This bill is a clear overreach that will predominantly punish and harass our neighbors, our friends and our family. 

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy fired back that such arguments were overblown. 

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, D-Vt., Judiciary Committee Chairman:  Senators should understand what is in this bill that a small minority of Republicans are seeking to prevent the Senate from even considering, the bill has three parts.  None of them threaten Second Amendment rights.  None of them call for gun confiscation or a gun — or a government registry. 

JUDY WOODRUFF:  In the end, gun control advocates acknowledged that today’s Senate outcome doesn’t guarantee ultimate success. 

At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney called it a first stage. 

JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary:  This is an important milestone, but it is a — an early milestone.  And there is no question that challenges will continue to be placed in the way of making progress on passing commonsense legislation that would reduce gun violence, but we are obviously very pleased with today’s vote. 

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Carney also said that, after the vote, President Obama telephoned families of several children killed in the Newtown school shootings.  Some of them had been lobbying senators all week to take up the gun control legislation.  Now debate begins in earnest, but any final vote could take weeks.