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Universal Background Check Bill Passes Senate Judiciary Committee With Zero Republican Votes

The fight for sensible gun regulation took a limping step forward on Tuesday, as a measure to expand background checks to all firearm sales passed the Senate Judiciary Committee by a 10-8 margin, but without a single Republican vote. Of the key measures in President Obama‘s anti-gun violence package, universal background checks enjoy the greatest (nearly unanimous) public support, and the Senate is supposed to be a friendlier place for these measures, relative to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. If background check legislation is having this hard a time in the Senate, what does that mean for bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines?

The Republican pushback on the background check bill had a frustratingly familiar ring to it. From US News and World Report:

In the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shooting that left 20 elementary school children dead, universal background checks seemed like one gun bill that could fly through the Senate. But a party-line vote in committee Tuesday revealed the appetite for gun-control legislation on Capitol Hill might be smaller than anyone outside the beltway imagined.

The Senate Judiciary Committee–which is considering a host of new gun legislation–voted 10 to 8 Tuesday to pass a universal background check bill out of committee. The bill would close the so-called gun show loophole, which allows unlicensed individuals to sell their wares at gun shows without running a background check on buyers.

…Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley said the background check legislation as it was written would create an “unnecessary burden” on private sales and would be ineffective because criminals would continue skirt around the law and find a way to get guns.

“Criminals do not comply with existing background check laws, why would anyone think criminals will comply broader background check requirements,” Grassley said during the committee meeting Tuesday.

Republicans on the committee also voiced their concern that the background check bill was a vehicle to create a national gun registry and eventually could lead to gun confiscation.

At a glance, this is somewhat discouraging news, but remember, this is just a committee vote. The key to passing all of these measures, even the assault weapons ban, will be to put legislators to the test in a straight up-or-down vote, to see which Senators, which House members, can vote against these measures and still look the victims of the next tragedy in the eye.

No one really knows, post-Newtown, what electoral effect a vote against popular gun regulations will have, particularly for Republicans. If any of them are going to eventually stick their necks out and do the right thing, they’re certainly not going to do it in a committee vote where their votes aren’t needed. Proponents of gun regulation shouldn’t let this news soften up their bellies, and it won’t. We know that gun regulations don’t have a chance of passing, until they do.

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