President Barack Obama wants Congress to enact new curbs, including bans on assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines and a requirement that all gun buyers be subject to background checks, not just sales by federally licensed dealers. Obama is expected to push anew for his plans in his State of the Union address Tuesday night.
Democrats have been more receptive to Obama's proposals than Republicans, most of whom — along with the National Rifle Association — have opposed them.
The universal background check has the broadest support and is expected to be a centerpiece of legislation that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy hopes to write in the next few weeks. The assault weapons ban is given little chance of enactment, and passage of a ban on large-capacity magazines also seems doubtful.
Timothy J. Heaphy, the Obama-appointed U.S. attorney for the western district of Virginia, said in his written statement that the federal background check system has kept more than 1.5 million guns from criminals and others prohibited from having them since 1998, when the system began. Even so, he told the subcommittee that the background check requirement needs to be expanded and he called for federal laws prohibiting illegal gun trafficking.
"Without more meaningful penalties for those who traffic in firearms, we will continue to find it difficult to dismantle the criminal networks that exploit these statutory gaps," he said.
In prepared testimony, Suzanna Gratia Hupp described being in Luby's restaurant in Killeen, Texas, when a gunman crashed his truck through the front window and fatally shot 23 people, including her parents, and wounded many others. Hupp says she left her gun in her car because Texas law barred her from bringing it into the restaurant.
"I can't begin to get across to you how incredibly frustrating it is to sit there, like a fish in a barrel, and wait for it to be your turn, with no hope of defending yourself," said Hupp, now a Republican Texas state official and gun rights advocate.