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US gun background-check bill stumbles

13:41 Fri Mar 8 2013
AAP

A US Senate panel has approved legislation that makes gun trafficking a federal crime, but bills banning assault weapons and expanding background checks to nearly all gun buyers face a tougher battle.

President Barack Obama applauded the vote by the Judiciary Committee in support of a bill that cracks down on "straw purchasers," who buy firearms for gang members and other criminals, saying he hoped to see it on his desk.

"I urge the Senate to give that bill a vote," he said. "I urge the House to follow suit."

The president has made it a priority to rein in gun violence in the aftermath of the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults with a semi-automatic rifle last December.

A cornerstone of his effort has been an expansion of background checks, but lawmakers have been grappling with how to shepherd it through a divided Congress.

Senate Judiciary chairman Patrick Leahy said he hoped to move three more bills through committee in the coming week.

But the bill on federal background checks for all gun purchases hit a roadblock after two senators negotiating its provisions failed to resolve a dispute over requiring that records of private gun sales be kept by the seller.

Republicans argue that such data should be destroyed, or it could ultimately be used to compile a national gun registry, something currently prohibited by law.

But debate at the judiciary meeting hinted at difficulties ahead.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, who introduced a beefed up version of an assault weapons ban that expired in 2004, admitted she had "a very hard road" to get her bill through.

She said Republicans were deriding her ban, which would prohibit 157 assault weapons outright and ban high-capacity clips or magazines, as "some kind of wild-eyed scheme".

"It is not. The majority of people favour this legislation," she said, citing various polls.

Republican Chuck Grassley countered that such moves would be doubling down on a "failed strategy."

"Restrictions on gun rights of law abiding citizens do not work," he said.