Senate votes to open debate on gun control

Prior to the first vote on gun reform in the US Senate, Jillian Soto (L) and Miya Rahamim (2nd R) hold hands and join with other relatives of victims of gun violence as the names of the Newtown school shooting victims are read aloud at the Capitol on April 11, 2013 in Washington, DC. The Senate voted to approve the procedural motion allowing further debate on the gun reform legislation pending before Congress and sought by the Obama administration.

The Senate cleared the way Thursday for an emotional, weeks-long debate to begin on various pieces of gun control legislation.

In a big win for Democrats, 16 Republicans crossed the aisle and voted to end a GOP filibuster that threatened to derail gun restrictions before debate could even start.

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Families of victims of the Newtown, Conn., school massacre looked on silently during the vote.

Many held hands and wiped away tears, some even appearing to pray, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid spoke following the procedural vote.

"The hard work starts now," Reid told the chamber.

Senators are slated to begin debate next week on a bigpartisan package of legislation that would expand gun background checks and increase the penalties for criminal sales.

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Many amendments will be considered, including the renewal of the federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004.

While Thursday's vote to open debate is a good sign, the legislation still has a long way to go toward Senate approval and faces an even steeper uphill battle in the Republican-controlled House.

The National Rifle Association, along with many Republicans and some moderate Democrats, say the proposals go too far and infringe upon the constitutional rights of gun owners.

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"This bill is a clear overreach that will predominantly punish and harass our neighbors, friends and family," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who joined the effort to block debate on the bill.

No major gun control legislation has passed Congress since 1994, Reuters wrote.