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US Congress debates gun-control legislation

One of the types of guns US police want off of the streets.

One of the types of guns US police want off of the streets.

WASHINGTON — Six weeks after the massacre of 26 people at a Connecticut school ignited new calls to fight gun-related violence, the issue reached the US Congress today amid questions about whether lawmakers will be able to agree on significant legislation.

In hearings that began in the Senate Judiciary Committee, President Barack Obama and other Democrats are seeking what would be the most robust gun-control package in decades.

Obama’s plan includes a ban on military-style “assault” weapons, limits on the capacity of ammunition clips, and more extensive background checks of prospective gun buyers, largely to verify whether they have a history of crime or mental illness.

But Republicans and some pro-gun Democrats envision a much more modest package. Many say that it’s unclear whether the Democrat-led Senate and the Republican-led House of Representatives both would pass any gun restrictions beyond improved background checks.

“We are trying to weigh things that could make a big difference against things that can pass,” said Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York. “I think background checks is the sweet spot.”

That sentiment reflects how the calls for gun control – which were so prominent during the emotional days following the December 14 shootings in Connecticut – will face political reality on Capitol Hill.

Most Republicans and some Democrats in Congress favour gun rights and represent constituents who do as well. The influential gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association, has called any attempt to restrict weapon sales an assault on Americans’ constitutional right to bear arms.

In recent days, some Republican lawmakers have joined Schumer and other Democrats in emphasising better background checks of gun buyers, rather than Obama’s more controversial plan to ban the sale of rapid-firing assault weapons like the one used in the Connecticut shootings. (Reuters)

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