WASHINGTON (AP) -- A divided Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday narrowly approved a Democratic bill expanding required federal background checks for nearly all gun purchases, but put off immediate consideration of an assault weapons ban.
The panel approved the measure by 10-8, supported by all Democrats and opposed by every Republican. Expanded background checks is at the heart of President Barack Obama's proposals to curb firearms. The sponsor is Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
Schumer said the measure will reduce gun crimes, and said he hopes he can strike a compromise on the measure with Republicans, which would enhance the measure's chances of passing in the full Senate.
Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, the top Republican on the panel, said he believes the measure will ultimately lead to a federal registry of gun owners -- which is illegal. Schumer said wouldn't happen.
The committee also approved a measure providing $40 million a year for school safety programs. The committee postponed until Thursday a vote on a proposal by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to ban assault weapons.
Requiring background checks for private gun transactions between individuals -- they're currently mandatory only for sales by licensed dealers -- is designed to prevent criminals, people with severe mental problems and others from getting guns.
Tuesday's meeting came five days after the panel approved Congress' first gun control measure since December's horrific shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school that left 26 students and educators dead. The initial bill, brought forward by the Judiciary Committee's chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and others, establishes long prison terms for illegal gun traffickers and straw purchasers, people who buy a firearm for criminals or others forbidden to buy one.
The Judiciary Committee was expected to approve all three bills at some point this week, with full Senate consideration next month.
"The American people need to speak up and be heard," Leahy said Monday of what it will take for gun measures to clear Congress.
Schumer's background check bill would exempt only a narrow range of transactions from the checks, such as transactions between immediate family members or weapons loaned temporarily during sporting events.