Rockefeller calls for 'honest debate' on guns rather than 'ugly criticisms'

The Senate is scheduled to begin debate of gun-control legislation later this week — nearly four months after a mass shooting in Newtown, Conn. The Senate bill would expand background checks on firearm purchases, create new penalties on straw purchases and fund school security. It doesn’t include an assault weapons ban or limits on magazine clip capacity — although Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) promised to allow a vote on those provisions as an amendment.

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Rockefeller said that he would again support an assault weapons ban as he did in 1994. He also said background checks have to be part of the debate in order to truly reduce gun violence.

“The background checks in particular are something we need to push ourselves to reach agreement on,” Rockefeller said. “We know beyond any doubt that right now in America, there are too many ways for criminals and the mentally ill to buy guns, especially at gun shows — and we know how to fix it. This does not mean gun owners would be placed on a registry. What it does mean is that those who want to do people harm shouldn’t be allowed to avoid background checks by going to gun shows. Period. And we all have a shared responsibility to just put an end to that.”

Republicans have expressed concern that extending background checks could create a federal registry of gun owners and make it harder for family members to transfer firearms. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has said he’d introduce his own gun violence bill as an alternative to the Democrats’ plan.

Expanded background checks are a key element of the gun-control measures supported by President Obama. Obama has launched a public effort to rally support for gun control, visiting states that have enacted tougher laws and speaking with families of victims of gun violence, after the Newtown mass-shooting in December where 20 first-graders were killed along with six school employees.

Some Republicans, such as Sens. Mike Lee (Utah) and Ted Cruz (Texas) have threatened to filibuster any gun-control legislation because they say it would limit Second Amendment rights.

“From the NRA to the halls of Congress and state capitols, we’ve seen some turn a blind eye to the tragedy of Newtown or, worse yet, use it as an excuse to create panic and undo longstanding public safety laws,” Rockefeller said. “The grief from four months ago shouldn’t go away. It should be the rallying cry that drives us to make fair and meaningful progress toward gun safety.”