WASHINGTON — A divided U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee approved a Democratic bill Tuesday expanding required federal background checks to nearly all gun purchases, giving President Barack Obama an early victory on curbing gun violence in a fight that still faces difficult odds.
The vote was 10-8, with all Democrats supporting the measure and every Republican opposing it.
As expected, the panel delayed voting on a plan by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, to ban assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines. The committee was expected to approve that measure Thursday.
Leaders of the Republican-run House have said they will wait to act until the Senate passes legislation. House Republicans have shown little enthusiasm for the expanded background check measure.
That measure would expand the requirement to firearms sales between private individuals, such as those that occur at gun shows. Currently, the checks are required only for sales by federally licensed firearms dealers.
“This isn’t going to be a perfect bill. But it will sure reduce crimes,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, a Democrat and the bill’s sponsor in the Senate.
Schumer said he hopes he can strike a compromise on the measure with Republicans, which would enhance its chances of passing in the full 100-member Senate. The chamber is expected to consider gun legislation next month.
Sen. Charles Grassley, top Republican on the Judiciary panel, said he believes the measure will ultimately lead to a federal registry of gun owners — which is illegal. He also said that requiring additional law-abiding citizens to face background checks would have limited impact on public safety.
“Mass shootings would continue to occur despite universal background checks,” Grassley said. “Criminals will continue to steal guns.”
The committee also approved a measure by Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat, providing $40 million a year for school safety programs. The vote was 14-4, with four Republicans joining Democrats in supporting the bill
The background check system is designed to prevent criminals, people with severe mental problems and others from getting guns.
Tuesday’s meeting came five days after the panel approved Congress’ first gun control measure since December’s horrific shooting at a Connecticut elementary school that left 26 students and six educators dead.
Democrats say background checks help keep criminals and others from getting weapons, and say keeping records of private sales is the only way to ensure that those checks are actually conducted. Currently, the government must destroy records of checks it conducts within a day, but gun dealers must maintain paper records of the transactions for 20 years.
Republicans oppose recordkeeping as a step toward a federal registry. They also argue that current laws need to be enforced better without imposing record-keeping requirements on additional gun buyers.