Congress in 1999 killed identical legislation to the bill unveiled Tuesday by Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and a long list of Democrats. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., are expected to unveil a "compromise" bill in the coming weeks.
One Republican, liberal Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, co-sponsored Reed's bill.
The bill garnered praise from gun rights opponents galvanized by a continuing rash of school shootings.
"The most deadly weapons used at Columbine two years ago … were purchased at a gun show," said Children's Defense Fund President Marian Wright Edelman. "We lose 10 children and teens every day to gunfire. How many lives could we save by taking the simple step of having background checks at gun-show sales?"
But critics of the bill called it poorly constructed and overreaching legislation that could lead to wide-scale registration requirements, even for current gun owners.
"It is a big, regulatory registration scheme," National Rifle Association spokesman Bill Powers said.
According to the NRA, the latest Gallup poll conducted last month showed that only 11 percent of adults surveyed thought new gun control laws would prevent future school tragedies.
Under the so-called Brady law, licensed gun dealers are required to conduct background checks using a federal criminal database for prospective gun buyers. But those requirements do not apply to private individuals selling weapons at weekend gun shows, opening what gun rights opponents argue is a huge loophole.
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