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February 12, 2013

Dem, GOP senators clash at latest hearing on guns

WASHINGTON —  

The plague of gun violence makes it plain that current firearms restrictions are insufficient and new federal limits are needed, a top Democrat said Tuesday at a Senate hearing on gun control. Parrying that, a Republican said gun rights must be protected, even amid horrors like the mass shooting of school children in Connecticut.

"There are too many families who now face an empty seat at the dinner table" because of gun violence, said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., chairman of a Senate Judiciary subcommittee. He said that while opponents of stricter gun limits claim that existing laws simply need to be better enforced, "that's not enough. There are so many gaps in those laws."

Durbin said restrictions such as requiring background checks for all gun purchases could be written that would still protect the Constitution's Second Amendment right to bear arms. Currently, such checks are required only for sales by licensed federal dealers.

At one point in the packed hearing, Durbin asked that people with relatives or friends who were victims of gun violence to stand, and several dozen rose from their seats.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, top Republican on the panel, expressed sympathy for those directly affected by gun violence. But he added that constitutional rights must be protected "not just when they're popular, but especially when passions are seeking to restrict and limit those rights."

Cruz said he believed that "stripping the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens does nothing to stop criminals" from committing violent acts.

There has been a renewed focus on guns on Capitol Hill in the wake of the December slayings of 20 first-graders and six adult staffers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Some family members of those shot there were in the hearing room Tuesday, according to Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

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