WASHINGTON — Gun control legislation the Senate debates next month will include an expansion of federal background checks for firearms buyers, Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday in a victory for advocates of gun restrictions.
President Barack Obama and many supporters of curbing guns consider an expansion of the system to private gun sales to be the most effective response lawmakers could take in the wake of December’s elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn.
The overall gun measure also will include legislation boosting penalties for illegal gun trafficking and modestly expanding a grant program for school security, said Reid, D-Nev. Its fate remains uncertain, and it will all but certainly need Republican support to survive.
Reid said that during Congress’ upcoming two-week break, he hopes senators will strike a bipartisan compromise on broadening background checks.
“I want to be clear: In order to be effective, any bill that passes the Senate must include background checks,” Reid said in a written statement.
Opponents including the National Rifle Association say background checks are easily sidestepped by criminals and threaten creation of government files on gun owners, illegal under federal law.
“We remain as committed as we have been to opposing gun bans. History shows us that gun bans don’t work to reduce crimes,” said Andrew Arulanandam, an NRA spokesman.
Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said , “I don’t know how the leader expects members to vote on an ever-changing piece of legislation that has yet to gain bipartisan support.”
“Senator Reid’s announcement is a tremendous step and we recognize there is still a tough road ahead,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence .
Reid said that during next months’ debate, he will allow votes on amendments including an assault weapons ban, curbs on high-capacity ammunition magazines and mental health.
Just days ago, Reid decided to exclude a proposed assault weapons ban from the gun bill the Senate will debate.
Reid said the ban lacked the 60 votes it would need and including it would risk defeat of the entire package.