WASHINGTON (AP) — A U.S. Senate committee approved legislation Thursday making gun trafficking a federal crime as lawmakers cast the first votes to curb firearms since December's shootings at a Connecticut school left 20 children dead.
The panel was also debating bills banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, requiring background checks for nearly all gun purchases and providing more money for schools to buy video cameras and other safety equipment.
All but the background checks measure face a tough road through Congress, with opposition from many Republicans and from the powerful National Rifle Association gun lobby.
All four measures were expected to pass the committee, but their fate when the full Senate considers them, probably in April, is less certain. The trafficking measure was thought to have the best prospects, while the assault weapons ban seemed to have the slimmest chance.
Supporters of curbing guns say the Senate will have to approve legislation with strong bipartisan support to boost their chances of success in the Republican-led House of Representatives. Republican leaders there have said they won't act until the Senate produces legislation.
The trafficking bill would create penalties of up to 25 years in prison for people who legally buy guns but give them to others who use them in crimes.
Expanding the checks is the cornerstone and most popular part of Obama's effort to rein gun violence. They are now mandated only for sales by the nation's 55,000 federally licensed gun dealers, not for private sales between individuals, like those at gun shows or online.
An Associated-Press-GfK poll in January found 84 percent favored requiring background checks at gun shows. Other proposed gun curbs were supported by just over half the public.
Democrats say background check records, whether kept by the individuals, manufacturers or others, are the only way to ensure that the checks are conducted for private sales. Some Republicans say such information could help create a federal registry of gun owners — something that is now illegal and that the White House says would not happen.
Further highlighting the division in the U.S. over gun control, lawmakers in the state of Georgia voted Thursday to ease rules preventing mentally ill people from getting licenses to carry firearms.
Georgia also may change its laws to allow people to carry guns in churches, bars and on college campuses, contrary to what's happening elsewhere in the country.
Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed.