Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Big U.S. votes loom over gun control

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WASHINGTON -- Both sides in the heated U.S. debate over guns are urging voters to pressure lawmakers ahead of critical votes next month in Congress that will indicate whether gun-rights groups have again fought off efforts to tighten firearms regulations, even after the Connecticut school massacre.

Both New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an outspoken supporter of gun control, and Wayne LaPierre, the CEO of the National Rifle Association gun-rights lobbying group, say their opposing views on guns have the support of the strong majority of Americans.

Both sides see the next two weeks as critical to the debate, when lawmakers head home to hear from constituents ahead of next month's anticipated Senate vote on gun-control legislation drafted in response to the December school shootings in Connecticut that left 20 young children and six educators dead.

Bloomberg, a former Republican-turned-independent, has just spent $12 million for Mayors Against Illegal Guns to run television ads and phone banks in 13 states urging voters to tell their senators to pass legislation requiring universal background checks for gun buyers.

"We demanded a plan and then we demanded a vote. We've got the plan, we're going to get the vote. And now it's incumbent on us to make our voices heard," Bloomberg said in an interview on NBC TV's Meet the Press.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday that legislation would likely be debated in his chamber next month that will include expanded federal background checks, tougher laws and stiffer sentences for gun trafficking and increased school safety grants.

Reid dropped a ban on assault-style weapons from the bill, fearing it would sink the broader bill. But Reid has said he would allow the ban to be voted on separately as an amendment to the bill.

U.S. President Barack Obama called for a vote on the assault-weapons ban in his radio and Internet address Saturday.

Still, the amendment banning assault weapons is unlikely to be passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate, where it takes 60 votes to advance measures to a final vote. About a dozen centrist Democratic senators from rural, Republican-leaning states are wary about supporting such restrictions. The legislation expanding background checks has better prospects in the Senate, but faces stiff opposition in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

Recalling the horrific shooting three months ago, Bloomberg said it would be a great tragedy if Congress, through inaction, lost the moment to make the country safer from gun violence. Bloomberg said 90 per cent of Americans and 80 per cent of National Rifle Association members support universal background checks for gun purchases.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 25, 2013 A12

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