In Congress’s first gun votes since the Newtown, Conn., nightmare, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to toughen federal penalties against illegal firearms purchases, even as senators signaled that a deep partisan divide remained over gun curbs.
The Democratic-led panel voted 11-7 to impose penalties of up to 25 years for people who legally buy firearms but give them to someone else for use in a crime or to people legally barred from acquiring weapons. The panel’s top Republican, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, cast the only GOP vote for the measure.
President Barack Obama urged lawmakers to vote on gun curbs, including the bill approved Thursday, which lawmakers named for Hadiya Pendleton, the Chicago teenager who was fatally shot days after performing at Obama’s inauguration.
Congress should consider those bills “because we need to stop the flow of illegal guns to criminals, and because Hadiya’s family and too many other families really do deserve a vote,” he said at an Interior Department ceremony.
The response from Republicans was that banning such weapons was unconstitutional, would take firearms from law-abiding citizens, and would have little impact because only a small percentage of crimes involve assault weapons or magazines carrying many rounds of ammunition.
“Are we really going to pass another law that will have zero effect, then pat ourselves on the back for doing something wonderful?” asked Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican.
The two other bills would require background checks for nearly all gun purchases and provide around $40 million a year for schools to buy security equipment. The committee was expected to vote on those measures and the assault weapons ban on Tuesday.
Thursday’s debate made it clear that despite recent mass slayings, new gun restrictions face a difficult path in a Congress in which the National Rifle Association and conservative voters have a loud voice. Obama proposed a broad package of gun curbs in January, including a call for background checks for nearly all gun purchases and an assault weapons ban.