Gun bill clears first hurdle

WASHINGTON -- It was a procedural vote, part of the senate's arcane process, but it brought tears to the eyes of family members of those killed in Newtown in December.

The Senate voted Thursday morning to take the first step toward considering the background check bill sponsored by Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican, and West Virginia's Joe Manchin, a Democrat. While the vote will only allow debate to move ahead, it opens the door to up-or-down votes on the background check bill as well contentious plans to ban assault weapons and high-capacity gun magazines. Those debates are expected in the coming weeks.

Needing 60 votes to overcome a Republican filibuster threat, the Senate voted 68-31 to move ahead -- with 16 GOP senators joining Democrats to overcome the potential procedural blockade.

Toomey, Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) and Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) all voted to take the next procedural step. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.), a longtime advocate for tougher gun laws, was absent as he deals with health problems.

Newtown family members watched from the gallery above.

Toomey huddled with Manchin during much of the vote and then the two spoke with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.). Their plan, unveiled Wednesday, will likely reach the senate floor next week, though debate could take weeks as both sides offer amendments.

"The reaction's been mixed," in Pennsylvania, Toomey said. "Its run the entire spectrum from people who are very, very pleased and very supportive and people who are not at all pleased."

"I do believe, however, the more people learn about what this bill actually does, how it does it, how reasonable it is, the fact that it doesn't undermine any law-abiding citizen's second amendment rights, I think support will grow," Toomey said.

In case you missed these earlier stories/posts:

-- Toomey is an unlikely senator to change the course of the debate on guns.

-- Three Philly-area House Republicans have already praised Toomey's plan, potentially providing key support in the GOP controlled chamber.