WASHINGTON — A divided Senate Judiciary Committee approved a Democratic bill Tuesday expanding required federal background checks to nearly all gun purchases, giving President Barack Obama an early victory on curbing gun violence in a fight that still faces difficult odds.
The vote was 10-8, with all Democrats supporting the measure and every Republican opposing it.
As expected, the panel delayed voting on a plan by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to ban assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines. The committee was expected to approve that measure Thursday. Feinstein was chairing a separate intelligence hearing.
The background check measure would expand the requirement to firearms sales between private individuals, such as those that occur at gun shows. Currently, the checks are required only for sales by federally licensed firearms dealers.
"This isn't going to be a perfect bill. But it will sure reduce crimes," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., the bill's sponsor.
Schumer said he hopes he can strike a compromise on the measure with Republicans, which would enhance its chances of passing in the full Senate. The chamber is expected to consider gun legislation next month, and GOP lawmakers have shown little enthusiasm for expanding the requirement to private firearms transactions.
Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, top Republican on the Judiciary panel, said he believes the measure will ultimately lead to a federal registry of gun owners — which is illegal. He also said that requiring additional law-abiding citizens to face background checks would have limited impact on public safety.
"Mass shootings would continue to occur despite universal background checks," Grassley said. "Criminals will continue to steal guns."
The committee also approved a measure by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., providing $40 million a year for school safety programs. The vote was 14-4, with four Republicans joining Democrats in supporting the bill