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Today: First Key Votes On Gun Laws Since Newtown Shootings

Update at 12:45 p.m. ET. One Measure Approved So Far:

"The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation Thursday making gun trafficking a federal crime as lawmakers cast the first vote in Congress to curb firearms since December's horrific shootings at a Connecticut elementary school," The Associated Press writes.

The wire service adds that "the panel was also debating bills banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines, requiring background checks for nearly all gun purchases, and providing more money for schools to buy video cameras and other safety equipment."

The trafficking bill was sent on to the full Senate by a 11-7 vote, with Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa as the only Republican to support the measure.

As we wrote earlier, the committee is considering four pieces of legislation today — and they all face uncertain fates on the floor of the Senate and in the House.

Our original post continues:

The most aggressive attempts to change federal gun law since 1994, when Congress passed a ban on assault-style weapons, come up for key votes Thursday on Capitol Hill, as Morning Edition reports.

CBS News sums up the story this way: "Senate lawmakers today are beginning what appears to be their final push to pass gun control legislation in response to the deadly massacre at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school in December."

The action will be at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing set to start at 10 a.m. ET. Due to be voted on:

-- The "assault weapons ban of 2013," sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

-- The "stop illegal trafficking in firearms" act put forward by Committee Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vt.

-- New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer's "protecting responsible gun sellers act of 2013," which would expand background checks for gun buyers.

-- The "school safety enhancements act of 2013" from Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

The Democratic-controlled committee is expected to vote in favor of all four bills, meaning they would then be considered by the full Senate. As for the bills' prospects after that, The Hill writes that:

"The decision to stage separate votes, rather than bundle the measures together, is significant, as it will allow centrist Democrats wary of Obama's gun-control strategy to hand-pick which elements (if any) they want to support. It also ensures that the assault weapons ban – the most radioactive of the measures – is not automatically included in the package, thereby threatening the less controversial reforms. ...

"The [Newtown] massacre led Obama to launch a package of anti-gun-violence proposals, and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have already met twice this year to consider them — the first time Congress has publicly examined the nation's gun laws in many years.

"Many of Obama's proposals, however, have a difficult road ahead. Although Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has vowed to bring to the floor whatever Leahy can move through his committee, Reid is also a long-time opponent of tougher gun laws, including Obama's push for a ban on assault weapons. Senate Republicans, meanwhile, are also uniting against most of Obama's gun-reform proposals.

"Given those political dynamics, gun-control supporters are focusing on one element of Obama's package they see as low-hanging fruit: an expansion of the criminal background check system for gun purchases."

The bills would also face uphill battles in the Republican-controlled House.

We'll update with news about the committee votes after they happen.

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
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