By Brian Tumulty, Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - Supporters of legislation to impose new penalties for illegal gun trafficking will highlight the problem at a forum this afternoon featuring one of the volunteer firefighters ambushed by a gunman in Webster, N.Y. in December.
Volunteer firefighter Theodore Scardino of Webster will talk about the ambush that killed two of his fellow volunteers. The gunman, a convicted felon who illegally acquired the guns he used, set a house and car on fire on Christmas Eve, then shot and killed the firemen before killing himself.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and police chiefs from San Francisco and Plymouth, Pa., also will talk about the use of illegally acquired guns in fatal shootings.
The legislation, the Gun Trafficking Prevention Act of 2013, has not had a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted last week to send the Senate version of the legislation to the floor for a vote next month. That version includes sections of a bill authored by Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York .
House Republicans have not yet announced whether they will allow a floor vote on the House version of the bill.
Two of the bill's GOP cosponsors are New York Reps. Michael Grimm of Staten Island and Peter King of Long Island.
Also today, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-8 along party lines to advance Sen. Chuck Schumer's bill requiring universal background checks for gun purchases.
Schumer, D-N.Y., has been negotiating with Republicans on a possible bipartisan version of the bill.
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, voted to advance the anti-gun-trafficking bill last week. But he opposes Schumer's background check bill, saying it would lead to an increase in illegal gun purchases.
"Criminals still get guns because they don't comply with existing background check laws,'' Grassley said. "They will be driven even more to straw purchases and theft.''
Schumer issued a statement after today's committee vote saying he's still confident his bill can draw bipartisan support.
"The issue of background checks remains the sweet spot,'' Schumer said. "It can pass Congress and make a difference in preventing gun violence."
The Senate Judiciary Committee also voted 14-4 today to advance a bipartisan bill to authorize a federal matching grant program for schools to make safety improvements. Cosponsors Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, said their bill would help schools install reinforced doors, classroom locks, lighting, fencing and other deterrents intended to improve safety.