The US Senate has begun debate on a proposal to expand criminal background checks on gun buyers.
The bipartisan move marks the most serious consideration of gun control legislation in 19 years, though many hurdles remain before final passage.
Meanwhile, gun control advocates have gathered in Washington DC to make an emotional push for new restrictions.
The powerful gun lobby vows to oppose new gun control measures, arguing the US Constitution forbids them.
Thursday’s procedural vote to begin debate passed 68-31, with a handful of Republicans joining all but two Democrats, who have the majority in the chamber.
The US Senate has begun debate on a proposal to expand criminal background checks on gun buyers
It is the furthest into the legislative process any gun control bill has moved since 1994, when an assault weapons ban passed.
Senators could take weeks to thrash out all the likely amendments and there’s absolutely no guarantee that any of this will actually become law.
Gun control advocates planned several events on Thursday to draw attention to what is described as a national gun violence epidemic.
Religious leaders from Newtown, Connecticut began a 24-hour vigil at 11:30 local time on the National Mall near the White House and Capitol building.
More than 3,300 grave markers placed there will represent those killed by guns since a gunman killed 26 people at a primary school in Newtown in December.
Another group has been reading aloud the names, places and ages of these gun violence victims.
The lobbying push by both gun control and gun rights groups comes as a Democratic and a Republican senator have announced an agreement on a bill to expand background checks.
On Wednesday, Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania unveiled a deal that would expand criminal background checks to all online and all gun show sales, establish a commission on mass violence, and ease some restrictions on transporting guns across state lines.
Their proposal is being hailed as the best chance for new gun control legislation, though it falls short of the far stricter measures backed by the White House.
Currently, so-called private gun sales by dealers who are not licensed, including some at gun shows, are not subject to criminal background checks on the purchaser.
Vice-President Joe Biden, a strong supporter of new gun control legislation, told MSNBC’s Morning Joe programme on Thursday that gun control was “one of the cases where the public is so far ahead of the elected officials”.
Joe Biden also accused the nation’s top gun rights lobbying group, the National Rifle Association (NRA), of spreading disinformation, and promised expanded background checks would not lead to a national gun registry.
But the NRA opposes the Manchin-Toomey deal, arguing background checks do nothing to prevent gun violence.
In a letter to senators on Wednesday, NRA lobbyist Chris Cox warned that the organization would score lawmakers based on their votes on the Manchin-Toomey deal and other measures it opposes.
President Barack Obama’s other proposals, including a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, have not gained traction in Congress.
In a statement Barack Obama said he wished the agreement were stronger but praised the move as progress.
“We don’t have to agree on everything to know that we’ve got to do something to stem the tide of gun violence,” the president said.
Senators will vote on a series of amendments to the legislation and then once more to close debate before voting on the bill itself.
Prospects for legislation in the House are unclear, with Republican House Speaker John Boehner saying he will wait until the Senate has a definite outcome before deciding whether to bring the bill to the House floor.
“It’s one thing for two members to come to some agreement,” he said.
“It doesn’t substitute the will for the other 98 members.”
President Barack Obama made an emotional plea as he urged lawmakers to vote on gun control legislation that appears to be stalling in Congress.
Speaking in Connecticut where 26 people died in Sandy Hook massacre last year, President Barack Obama said citizens must demand action.
Opinion polls have shown a majority of Americans support a ban on assault weapons and other gun control measures.
But gun rights groups, including the National Rifle Association (NRA), have been lobbying politicians against the bill.
President Barack Obama made an emotional plea as he urged lawmakers to vote on gun control legislation that appears to be stalling in Congress
“The day Newtown happened was the toughest day of my presidency,” Barack Obama said in his speech at Hartford, not far from Newtown, scene of the mass shooting four months ago.
“But I’ve got to tell you, if we don’t respond to this, that’ll be a tough day for me too.”
The Associated Press news agency reports there were tears in Barack Obama’s eyes as he described Newtown parent Nicole Hockley, who has said every night she asks her 6-year-old son Dylan to come to her in her dreams so she can see him again.
“If there’s even one thing we can do to prevent a father from having to bury his child, isn’t that worth fighting for?” Barack Obama asked, amid repeated standing ovations from the crowd.
He called for a vote on his three gun legislation priorities – strengthening background checks on gun buyers, limiting the size of ammunition magazines to 10 rounds, and a ban on assault weapons.
However, the US Senate recently ditched the proposed ban on assault weapons and on high-capacity magazines, saying there was not enough support for the measure.
On Monday, Barack Obama said curbing gun violence was more important than partisan politics.
“Connecticut, this is not about me,” he said.
“This is not about politics.
“This is about doing the right thing for all the families who are here that have been torn apart by gun violence.”
Eleven parents of young children who were killed in the Newtown school shooting returned to Washington DC with Barack Obama aboard his official plane, Air Force One.
They are due to lobby members of Congress who have not yet backed the gun control bill.
Barack Obama said: “Nothing’s going to be more important in making sure that the Congress moves forward this week than hearing from them.”
The president criticized Republicans who have threatened to use a procedural tactic known as a filibuster to delay a vote on the gun bill.
Thirteen senators have said in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid they would take such action, after he brought the bill to the Senate floor for debate on Monday.
“Some back in Washington are already floating the idea that they may use political stunts to prevent votes on any of these reforms. Think about that,” said Barack Obama.
“They’re not just saying they’ll vote <<no>> on ideas that almost all Americans support.
“They’re saying they’ll do everything they can to even prevent any votes on these provisions. They’re saying your opinion doesn’t matter. And that’s not right.”
Barack Obama’s speech came a week after Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy signed sweeping gun-control measures into law.
Connecticut follows the states of Colorado and New York in passing tighter state gun laws.
Connecticut lawmakers have approved gun control measures, which campaigners say are the strictest in America, following December Sandy Hook massacre.
The new restrictions include a ban on new high-capacity magazines and background checks on all gun buyers.
President Barack Obama and gun control advocates say the measures are needed to curb an epidemic of gun violence.
Connecticut lawmakers have approved gun control measures, which campaigners say are the strictest in America, following December Sandy Hook massacre
In December 2012, gunman Adam Lanza in Newtown, Connecticut, killed 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Gun rights groups argue the legislation – which was approved by both the senate and lower house in Connecticut – would not have prevented the Newtown school shooting.
Connecticut assembly passed the legislation after more than 13 hours of debate.
In Washington, the US Congress is set to debate new gun control legislation this month.
Gun control in Connecticut became a predominant political issue after 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot his way into Sandy Hook primary school with a high-powered rifle legally purchased by his mother – whom he also killed.
The killings also reignited national debate on gun control, and led to President Barack Obama making gun safety one of the defining issues of his second term, which started a month after the shooting.
Barack Obama plans to visit Connecticut on April 8 as his proposed gun control measures in Congress appear to have stalled. Correspondents say the president will use it to increase pressure on lawmakers in Washington.
Gun control measures passed by Connecticut on April 4 include:
- an expansion of the state’s assault weapons ban
- background checks for all prospective firearms purchasers, including in private transactions
- a ban on the sale or purchase of ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds
- a registry of weapons offenders
- a state eligibility certificate to purchase a rifle or shotgun that involves a psychiatric commitment check
“This is a new and historic model for the country on an issue that has typically been the most controversial and divisive,” Connecticut Senate President Donald Williams was quoted by local media as saying at the end of a 6-hour debate in the lower house on Thursday morning.
The approval of the bill by both houses of the Connecticut assembly came after weeks of negotiations between Democratic and Republican legislative leaders, who said they were determined to produce a bipartisan bill in response to the tragedy.
President Barack Obama wants to reinstate an assault weapons ban in the wake of the mass killings in Newtown, Connecticut, his spokesman Jay Carney announced today.
Jay Carney said the president was “actively supportive” of a Democratic senator’s plan to introduce a bill on the first day of the next Congress.
Barack Obama would also consider curbs on high-capacity ammunition and loopholes, Jay Carney said.
Gunman Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six adults in Friday’s attack.
Barack Obama has previously stated his support for the reintroduction of an assault weapons ban, which lapsed in 2004.
But he has not backed a specific move to do so before now.
“He is actively supportive of, for example, Senator [Dianne] Feinstein’s stated intent to revive a piece of legislation that would reinstate the assault weapons ban,” Jay Carney said on Tuesday.
President Barack Obama wants to reinstate an assault weapons ban in the wake of the mass killings in Newtown, Connecticut
The White House press secretary added that Barack Obama was also supportive of other gun legislation, including on high-capacity ammunition clips and against a loophole that allows for gun purchases at gun shows.
Senator Dianne Feinstein told reporters she would introduce the legislation when the new Congress met for the first time in January.
Correspondents say that Democrats are now less reluctant to pursue gun control legislation than before.
During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama expressed support for the ban on assault weapons during one of three televised debates against Republican candidate Mitt Romney.
“I also share your belief that weapons that were designed for soldiers in war theatres don’t belong on our streets,” Barack Obama said in the second debate on October 16.
“And so what I’m trying to do is to get a broader conversation about how do we reduce the violence generally. Part of it is seeing if we can get an assault weapons ban reintroduced.”