The Senate Judiciary Committee agreed to reconvene March 7 to begin considering bills sponsored by Democrats to revamp the background-check system, make gun trafficking a federal crime for the first time, bolster school security programs and ban hundreds of military-style assault weapons and parts.
The background-checks bill is expected to earn the most bipartisan support if a deal can be reached between two Democrats and two Republicans trying to draft a compromise.
"They're not over; everybody's still working," Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., said of the talks as he emerged from a meeting with fellow negotiators on the Senate floor Thursday afternoon. "Everybody's working in good faith."
Manchin is joined in the talks by Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Tom Coburn, R-Okla. and Mark Kirk, R-Ill.
Although there is general agreement on the proposal's broad outlines, Coburn is strongly opposed to adding language to the bill that would require gun owners to keep transactional records of private firearms sales, according to aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the internal deliberations.
The Judiciary Committee's decision to postpone consideration of the legislation was expected, something that can occur whenever a member of the panel requests more time for review, aides said. In this case, Republicans signaled that they would like more time to consider the proposals and potentially propose amendments.
When the committee reconvenes, "we will spend as much time as it takes" to review the bills, Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.. said at a brief hearing. The proposed assault-weapons ban, sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., will get an up-or-down vote in the committee despite strong objections from Republicans and moderate Democrats, Leahy said.
"We will have votes on her legislation - it's a serious piece of legislation, it is not a frivolous matter by any example and she deserves hearings, she deserves votes and she will have them," Leahy said of Feinstein's bill.
But the committee's ranking Republican, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, said that Feinstein's bill "raises a lot of constitutional questions" and that his GOP colleagues have several concerns about it. Citing disagreements over automatic spending cuts set to take effect Friday, Grassley also said he is worried about the potential costs of a bill proposed by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., to provide more federal money for school security.
Grassley said the Justice Department needs to increase its enforcement of current gun laws, but said Republicans are not universally opposed to reforming them.
"We ought to be determined to take effective, constitutional action that would prevent future catastrophe and make this world safer," he said.
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