Last updated: March 08. 2013 12:02AM - 1228 Views

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WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation Thursday toughening laws against people who illegally buy guns for others as lawmakers cast the first votes in Congress to curb firearms since December’s horrific shootings at a Connecticut elementary school.

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 committee voted 11-7 to approve the measure, which boosted penalties against straw purchases, when people legally buy firearms for criminals or others legally barred from owning one. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, was the only Republican to vote in favor of the measure, whose chief sponsor was the panel’s chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

“We know that many guns used in criminal activities are acquired through straw purchases. We need a meaningful solution to this serious problem,” Leahy said.

Though the committee vote was mostly party-line, other Republicans co-sponsored the measure, and others indicated that there might be more GOP support by the time the legislation reaches the full Senate, probably in April.

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters that the administration favors “tough penalties on gun traffickers and straw purchasers who funnel guns to dangerous criminals.”

Even so, evidence was abundant of partisan clashes ahead as the two parties sparred over limiting firearms. Though the panel recessed before voting on the proposed assault weapons ban, but debate on the measure made a party-line vote on it seem likely.

Grassley said everyone wants to prevent more killings like the deaths of 20 first-graders and six staffers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. But he said gun control does not work and accused Democrats of wanting to “impose more gun restrictions on law-abiding citizens.”

All four measures were expected to pass the committee.

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