Senate Readies To Debate Gun Control Measure

The Senate is expected to hold its first floor vote on a gun bill since the Newtown school shootings on Thursday. It's an attempt to move forward on legislation expanding the use of criminal background checks for gun buyers. Some Republicans had threatened a filibuster to stop the measure, but support for that tactic appears to have diminished.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

On Capitol Hill, the Senate is set to open debate this morning on the first major gun-control legislation to reach Congress in two decades. Some Republicans, though, say they have a pretty good reason to hold up that debate. NPR's Ailsa Chang explains.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Sen. Mike Lee, of Utah, is one of the Republicans who say they're filibustering, and here's his rational. He's not actually trying to block debate; he's just trying to buy more time to consider the proposals.

SEN. MIKE LEE: And it helps us ensure that we have a meaningful debate, rather than a series of backroom deals to push such controversial legislation through Congress.

CHANG: One of the backroom deals to which Lee is referring is a newly hashed-out agreement between Democrat Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, and Republican Pat Toomey, of Pennsylvania. It would extend background checks to gun shows and online sales; and require licensed gun dealers to keep records of all those purchases. Manchin would exempt private sales, such as transfers between family members.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN: We're not infringing on their rights as an individual citizen. But basically, if you're going to go to a gun show, you should be subjected the same as if you went to the gun store.

CHANG: The National Rifle Association, which has given both Manchin and Toomey A-letter grades in the past, released a statement saying the sad truth was, no background check would have prevented the tragedies in Newtown, Aurora or Tucson.

It will take 60 votes today to start debate on that background checks compromise, and other provisions on gun trafficking and school safety funding. An assault weapons ban, and limit on ammunition magazines, were dropped from the package earlier. But gun-control supporters intend to offer them as amendments.

Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol.

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