WASHINGTON — In Congress' first gun votes since the Newtown, Conn., nightmare, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to toughen federal penalties against illegal firearms purchases, even as senators signaled that a deep partisan divide remained over gun curbs.
The Democratic-led panel voted 11-7 to impose penalties of up to 25 years for people who legally buy firearms but give them to someone else for use in a crime or to people legally barred from acquiring weapons. The panel's top Republican, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, cast the only GOP vote for the measure.
President Barack Obama urged lawmakers to vote on gun curbs, including the bill approved Thursday, which lawmakers named for Hadiya Pendleton, the Chicago teenager who was fatally shot days after performing at Obama's inauguration.
Congress should consider those bills "because we need to stop the flow of illegal guns to criminals, and because Hadiya's family and too many other families really do deserve a vote," he said at an Interior Department ceremony.
The parties' differences were underscored when senators debated a proposal by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. Democrats have noted that such firearms have been used in many recent mass shootings.
"The time has come, America, to step up and ban these weapons," said Feinstein, a lead sponsor of a 1994 assault weapons ban that expired a decade later. She added, "How could I stand by and see this carnage go on?"
The response from Republicans was that banning such weapons was unconstitutional, would take firearms from law-abiding citizens, and would have little impact because only a small percentage of crimes involve assault weapons or magazines carrying many rounds of ammunition.