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Congress makes gun trafficking a federal crime as US arms debate continues

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US Senators have passed a bill making gun trafficking a federal crime. It was the first Congressional vote to curb firearms since the Sandy Hook massacre, and comes after President Obama placed gun control at the top of his agenda.

The bill, which is sponsored by committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont, would create penalties of up to 25 years in prison for people who buy guns for others to use in a crime. The vote was 11 to 7, with Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa the only Republican to support it.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to approve three other gun-control bills before the weekend, thus paving the way for heated debates in the Senate over a proposed ban on assault weapons, as well as calls for expanded background checks on prospective gun owners.

Political observers are almost unanimous in the belief that Congress has no chance of passing an all-out ban on assault weapons, which have been blamed for a rash of shootings, including a recent rampage in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 school children and six adults were indiscriminately killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham defended the right of Americans to use semiautomatic weapons, pointing to post-Katrina New Orleans as an example, said an AR-15 assault rifle would be vital protection against “armed gangs roaming around neighborhoods.”

However, the introduction of more extensive background checks for gun buyers may be one area where Republicans and Democrats can find some compromise.

The debate hinges on whether the government has the right to maintain a directory of private gun sales. Republicans, which make up the majority of the hugely influential National Rifle Association (NRA), are fiercely opposed to handing over such ‘arbitrary powers’ to the federal government.

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