The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a gun trafficking bill Thursday but recessed before voting on several other contentious gun-control measures, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D., Calif.) assault weapons ban.
The panel voted 11-7 to approve an amended bill that would make straw purchasing firearms a federal crime, punishable by 15 to 25 years in prison. That bill is widely seen as the most politically viable gun-control measure that can pass the Congress.
President Barack Obama applauded the committee for advancing the bill before he signed the Violence Against Women Act into law Thursday afternoon, calling it "another big step toward sensible gun safety reforms."
"I urge the Senate to give that bill a vote," Obama said. "I urge the House to follow suit, and I urge Congress to move on other areas that have support of the American people, from requiring universal background checks to getting assault weapons off our streets."
The Judiciary Committee was scheduled to consider moving three other gun-control bills to the Senate floor: Feinstein’s assault weapons ban; a bill requiring universal background checks for firearms purchases; and a school safety bill.
Those bills are also likely to pass the Democrat-controlled committee, but they will have to wait for another day. Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) recessed the meeting so several members could attend a classified intelligence briefing.
Feinstein’s bill, by far the most wide-sweeping and liberal of the bills being considered, faces a tough road through Congress. It bans 157 specific firearms, as well as high-capacity magazines and firearms with one or more "military characteristics."
The panel voted down an amendment by Sen. John Cornyn, (R., Texas) which would have exempted members of the military and veterans from the bill’s restrictions.
The committee adopted an amendment by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) amendment to prohibit Justice Department operations to sell firearms to straw purchasers, such as occurred in the botched "Operation Fast and Furious."
"Fast and Furious was a debacle that will haunt the Department of Justice for decades," Grassley said.
Such sting operations would be prohibited unless approved by top Justice Department officials and safeguards are in place to stop firearms from being transferred to third parties without being interdicted.
The committee approved another Grassley amendment requiring studies on the impact of violent video games.