US Senate reaches deal on background checks for gun buyers

Republicans and Democrats agree to expansion of checks for guns bought at shows and online

Michelle Obama during a speech about combatting youth violence at a lunch in Chicago yesterday. Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Michelle Obama during a speech about combatting youth violence at a lunch in Chicago yesterday. Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images


A compromise between Republican and Democrat senators on extending background checks for gun buyers has increased the possibility of new gun ownership laws at least being debated in the Senate.

The deal, which expands background checks for guns purchased at gun shows and online, could head off a threatened filibuster roadblock by right-wing Republican senators stopping a package of gun control measures being considered in the Senate, even before the legislation has a chance of being put to a vote.

Joe Machin, a Democrat from West Virginia, and Patrick Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania – two senators previously seen as leaning toward the influential gun lobby – spearheaded the deal which doesn’t include firearm sales between family members that gun control groups and some Democratic senators had sought.

Newtown shootings
The deal came as the White House continued to use the bully pulpit to increase the public pressure on Congress to pass new gun ownership laws in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut school shootings that left 20 children and six adults dead at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in December.

In an address punctuated with emotion, the First Lady Michelle Obama said in a speech in the Obamas’ home town of Chicago that the question of the obligation to protect the nation’s children was “weighing” on her heart.

Her voice crackled as she described how she had spoken to the classmates of Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old girl whose murder has come to represent the cost of gangland shootings.

Mrs Obama, whose appearance followed an equally emotional speech by her husband in Connecticut on Monday, called on Congress to act on gun violence, urging lawmakers to vote on new gun controls.

“These reforms deserve a vote in Congress,” she told an audience of businesspeople in a Chicago hotel.

The bipartisan deal agreed on background checks is designed to find consensus among as many senators to support a gun ownership bill and win over Democrats who face strong re-election challenges from Republicans in marginal states. Background checks are seen as key to closing loopholes in gun ownership laws. About 40 per cent of gun purchases are not covered by criminal checks.

The cross-party compromise falls short of the universal background checks sought by the president in his attempt to pass the most sweeping changes in gun controls since the 1990s.

Common ground
“This is a start,” said Mr Machin. “Americans on both sides of the debate can find common ground.”

The Senate is expected to vote to consider the gun-control bill today as, following yesterday’s background-check deal, Democrats seem to have garnered the 60 votes required to stop an attempt by the side of the Republican party aligned with the far-right Tea Party movement to block the bill being debated.