Sig Sauer handguns are displayed during the annual SHOT Show in Las Vegas

Senate panel backs crackdown on clandestine gun sales

by Thomas Ferraro,  |  published on March 8, 2013

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday backed President Barack Obama’s call to crack down on the clandestine trafficking of firearms, marking the first votes in Congress on gun-control since a school massacre last year prompted calls for action.

On a largely party-line vote of 11-7, the Democratic-led committee approved a bill to make it a federal crime to engage in “straw purchasing,” or buying of guns on behalf of those who are prohibited from owning them.

“It is designed to prevent criminals from using straw purchasers who can pass a background check and then hand those firearms to criminals,” Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said in touting his bill. It carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

The proposal was the first of four gun-control measures that are expected to pass the committee, setting up fights in the full Senate where Republicans strongly oppose a proposed ban on assault weapons and have doubts about a plan to expand background checks on prospective gun buyers.

Obama hailed the vote and urged “Congress to move on other areas that have the support of the American people, from requiring universal background checks to getting assault weapons off our streets.”

The committee will decide next week on other efforts to curb gun violence, beginning on Tuesday with the most controversial element: a plan to outlaw the sale of military-style assault weapons.

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