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Judiciary Panel Delays Work on Gun Bills

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday postponed until next week consideration of several gun regulation proposals sponsored by Democrats, after days of speculation that action on the bills would be delayed due to GOP opposition.

The panel was scheduled to consider four bills — a universal background check measure, an assault weapons ban, gun trafficking penalties and a school safety bill — but Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., announced early in the markup that the panel will take up the measures on March 7. Committee rules allow any member of the panel to request that bills or nominations be held over until the panel’s next meeting or for one week, whichever occurs later.

Earlier this week, panel member Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters that he expected the markup of the gun legislation to be delayed.

Of the three gun measures on the agenda, the assault weapons ban (S 150), sponsored by Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is considered the most contentious, with many Republicans expressing opposition and key Democrats — including Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada — declining to endorse it. The bill would prohibit the future sale, transfer, manufacture and importation of 157 specific kinds of semi-automatic guns and impose the same restrictions on ammunition magazines containing more than 10 rounds. It would also ban rifles, handguns and shotguns that can accept detachable magazines and have certain physical characteristics, such as a pistol grip or a folding stock.

Ranking Republican Charles E. Grassley of Iowa said at a committee hearing Wednesday that the measure “bans guns based solely on their appearance. Some of those cosmetic features are useful for self-defense.”

During Thursday’s Judiciary meeting, Grassley said “we’re shocked and horrified” by the elementary school shootings in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, adding, “We do not want something like this to happen again.” He said that “society in recent decades has become less civil” but that there are other factors that need to be taken into consideration when addressing violence, including video games and mental health services. “Efforts limited to guns alone will not accomplish what is needed,” he said.

Under a bill (S 374) sponsored by New York Democrat Charles E. Schumer, background checks would be required for every firearm sale. The measure also would require that all individuals prohibited from buying a firearm be listed in the national instant criminal background check system.

The trafficking legislation (S 54), sponsored by Leahy, would prohibit the purchase or transfer of a gun if the intended recipient is legally prevented from owning it, an activity known as “straw purchasing.” Such incidents would be subject to penalties of up to 20 years imprisonment. The ban would not apply to any lawfully purchased firearm intended to be given as a gift or to a winner of a raffle or contest, unless the recipient is prohibited by law from possessing it.

California Democrat Barbara Boxer’s school safety measure (S 146) would increase the authorization for the Justice Department’s existing Community Oriented Policing Services Secure Our Schools grant program from $30 million to $100 million from fiscal 2014 to 2023. The program provides funding for schools to install tip lines, surveillance equipment, metal detectors and other safety measures.

John Gramlich and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this story.

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