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Senate to start hearings on gun plans

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013 10:44 a.m. CST • Updated: Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013 10:50 a.m. CST

WASHINGTON – The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said Wednesday he'll begin hearings in two weeks on gun control proposals.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said he doesn't know if an assault weapons ban can pass the Senate but he said there are some measures that can, such as improved background checks.

"There are some who say nothing will pass. I disagree with that," Leahy told students at Georgetown University Law Center. "What I'm interested in is what we can get."

Leahy spoke as President Barack Obama prepared to unveil sweeping proposals to curb gun violence a month after the slaughter in Newtown, Conn., of 20 young students and six adults. Obama is proposing reinstating a ban on assault weapons, limiting ammunition magazines to 10 rounds, tightening background checks, and cracking down on gun trafficking, among other steps.

Leahy said his committee would consider Obama's proposals but he declined to commit to any timetable for voting on a bill.

Leahy, a gun owner, said he envisions a series of hearings examining violence in popular media and how to keep guns safe, among other topics.

His plan could point to a slower process in Congress than gun control advocates would like. The White House sees a need for fast action before memories of Newtown fade. Leahy disputed any suggestion that his approach would stand in the way of quick movement.

"I think it is an urgent situation and that's why the first hearings held by anybody, House or Senate, is going to be by me," he said.

Leahy said he thought Congress could act to close the "gun show loophole" that allows sales by private sellers at gun shows and elsewhere — including over the Internet — to proceed without background checks. Advocates say some 40 percent or more of gun sales are completed in that fashion.

But Leahy said "I don't know" when asked whether a new assault weapons ban could pass the Senate.

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