In the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shooting that left 20 elementary school children dead, universal background checks seemed like one gun bill that could fly through the Senate. But a party-line vote in committee Tuesday revealed the appetite for gun-control legislation on Capitol Hill might be smaller than anyone outside the beltway imagined.
The Senate Judiciary Committee--which is considering a host of new gun legislation--voted 10 to 8 Tuesday to pass a universal background check bill out of committee. The bill would close the so-called gun show loophole, which allows unlicensed individuals to sell their wares at gun shows without running a background check on buyers.
The bill provides limited exemptions for immediate family members who may pass on a weapons as a family heirloom or gift and for individuals who are using a gun temporarily for a sporting event.
A Washington Post/ ABC News poll out Tuesday showed more than 90 percent of Americans supported universal background checks.
The bill also encourages states and local governments to report more criminal and mental health records to the National Instant Criminal Background System, the database used to run the background checks. The system has been ridiculed for being incomplete.
Up until a week ago, Democrats and Republicans were working together to negotiate a deal on background checks, but those conversations failed to yield a compromise bill.
Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley said the background check legislation as it was written would create an "unnecessary burden" on private sales and would be ineffective because criminals would continue skirt around the law and find a way to get guns.
"Criminals do not comply with existing background check laws, why would anyone think criminals will comply broader background check requirements," Grassley said during the committee meeting Tuesday.
Republicans on the committee also voiced their concern that the background check bill was a vehicle to create a national gun registry and eventually could lead to gun confiscation.
New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, the bill's architect, blasted those accusations as absurd and paranoid.
"I have to tell you that demeans the arguments here. The bill explicitly says no registration, no confiscation," Schumer said. "It is sad. Right after Newtown, there was a view that maybe the right place we could all come together was on background checks."
Members on the committee, however, did see eye to eye on a bill that would allocate $40 million in resources to help schools implement safety programs. The legislation passed 14 to 4 on a bipartisan basis. Unlike universal background checks, in principle, the National Rifle Association has said it could support a safer schools initiative.
The real drama is expected on Thursday when the Senate committee votes on California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein's assault-style weapons ban. Feinstein's bill would prohibit more than 150 specifically-named handguns and rifles, the sale of semi-automatic weapons that have detachable magazines over 10 rounds, and military assault weapons that include flash suppressors or pistol grips. The legislation would grandfather in more than 2,000 weapons.