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Senate panel approves first gun-related legislation

The US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] voted 11-7 on Thursday to approve gun-related legislation, establishing potential floor votes on the issue of gun violence for the first time in nearly a decade. The bill [S54, PDF], aimed at stopping illegal firearm trafficking, would make straw purchasing weapons—buying a weapon for someone who is barred from owning one—a federal crime and would increase penalties for offenders. While straw purchases are already illegal, the law is written in a manner that makes it difficult for law enforcement to prosecute offenders. Only one Republican, Senator Chuck Grassley [official website] of Iowa, voted for the bill, while several others on the panel voiced concern over unintended consequences and suggested the bill was done in haste. Although four gun-related measures were supposed to be addressed at the meeting, a recess was announced and the committee will reconvene March 12 to vote on a proposed ban on assault weapons and measures to expand background checks and improve school safety.

Gun control has been the center of attention since the Newtown, Connecticut shooting [WSJ backgrounder] in December. This week Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] spoke before Congress [JURIST report] urging [text] them to pass gun control legislation. Earlier this month, the Maryland Senate approved a bill [JURIST report] that would make it harder to get a gun license. In mid-January, Obama announced his signing of 23 executive orders [JURIST report] intended to strengthen existing gun laws, as well as urging Congress to reinstate the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004. The previous day New York Governor Andrew Cuomo [official website] signed legislation [JURIST report] intended to impose tighter restrictions on gun and ammunition sales, banning any magazine that can hold more than seven rounds and implementing instant background checks on all ammunition purchases at the time of sale.

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