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Senate Hearing Shows Support for Gun Background Checks, Trafficking Measures

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Giffords testifies on gun violence as her husband looks on during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. The former congresswoman was severely wounded during a mass shooting at a constituent event in Tucson, Ariz., in 2011.

Leahy has introduced legislation to crack down on trafficking, and two other senators — Kirk and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. — announced Wednesday that they had also introduced a trafficking bill, the first bipartisan legislation on gun violence since the Connecticut shooting.

The Kirk-Gillibrand bill would prohibit the sale or purchase of two or more guns for those known to be barred from owning firearms, and it would make it illegal to provide false information on transaction forms provided by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

“Our bipartisan bill will save lives. It is not a Republican or Democratic idea, it is just the right idea,” Gillibrand said in a written statement. “The absence of any federal law defining gun trafficking in this country is shocking. It is time to give law enforcement the tools they need to keep illegal guns off the streets and out of the hands of dangerous people.”

Other Proposals Criticized

While improved background checks and gun trafficking legislation may gain bipartisan traction on Capitol Hill, Wednesday’s hearing suggested strongly that two other priorities for liberal Democrats — a reinstated assault weapons ban and a ban on large ammunition magazines — will not.

Republican senators and several witnesses stated bluntly that the original assault weapons ban, which lasted from 1994 to 2004, was ineffective.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called the law a “singularly ineffective piece of legislation,” and University of Denver constitutional law professor David Kopel said the law was a “failure.”

Those criticisms came as the author of the original ban, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., sat just a few feet away in the hearing room. Feinstein last week reintroduced an expanded version of the ban, which would prohibit 157 specific kinds of gun by name and ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. The legislation also would require background checks on the sale or transfer of such assault weapons that are currently in private owners’ possession.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., indicated he is unlikely to support the assault weapons ban because, he said, there are situations in which high-powered guns that would be banned under the proposal, as well as the magazines that feed them, are necessary.

“In some circumstances, the 15-round magazine makes perfect sense, and in some circumstances, the AR-15 makes perfect sense,” Graham said, referring to a widely circulated semiautomatic rifle that would be outlawed under Feinstein’s plan.

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

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