A man looks at a shotgun during the East Coast Fine Arms Show in Stamford, Connecticut, January 5, 2013.
WASHINGTON -- A divided U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday backed President Barack Obama's call to require criminal background checks for all gun buyers, yet it remained uncertain if it would become law.
On a party-line vote of 10-8, the Democratic-led panel sent the measure to the full Senate where it faces a possible procedural roadblock that could kill it.
Federally registered firearm dealers are now required to run background checks on buyers. But about 40 percent of sales are made by private dealers who do not have such an obligation.
Obama proposed background checks for all gun buyers after the school massacre in Connecticut last December that left 20 children and six adults dead.
Republicans in the committee lined up against the bill, arguing that private gun sales between family members and friends should be exempted from background checks.
They also oppose a requirement that private sellers keep a paper record of firearm transactions, voicing fear it could lead to gun registration and eventually even confiscation.
Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York, sponsor of the bill, dismissed such fears as unfounded and argued that the measure would reduce crime.
Schumer also said he was optimistic that a bipartisan compromise on background checks could be substituted for the committee bill before it goes to the Senate, likely next month.
"I'm confident that we will find a compromise," said Schumer.
Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, the committee's top Republican, led the charge against Schumer's bill, saying, "I don't think it is ready."
"We were told that there would be widespread support," Grassley said, yet three of the four senators Schumer had been working with to reach a compromise do not support the measure that he offered.
The committee approved a second bill, 14-4, to provide $40 million a year over the next 10 years to bolster school security. Grassley joined three fellow Republicans and all 10 committee Democrats in voting for it.
On Thursday the committee is expected to approve, on another party-line vote, an Obama-backed bill to renew a ban on military-style assault weapons that expired in 2004 after being in force for 10 years.
That measure also faces a possible procedural roadblock, which would require 60 votes in the 100-member Senate to clear.
Republicans and even some Democrats from rural states where guns are popular oppose the ban, arguing it would violate the constitutional right to bear arms.
The ban's supporters say they recognize gun rights, but argue that the government has a responsibility to protect its citizens from undue risks.
Military-style semi-automatic assault weapons have been the weapon of choice in a number of massacres in recent years, including the one in Newtown.