By ALAN FRAM
WASHINGTON (AP) - Gun control supporters won the first Senate showdown Thursday over how to respond to the December carnage in Newtown, Conn., defeating an effort by conservatives to derail a package of firearms restrictions before debate could even start.
The 68-31 roll call gave an early burst of momentum to efforts by President Barack Obama and lawmakers to push fresh gun curbs through Congress. The National Rifle Association, along with many Republicans and some moderate Democrats, say the proposals go too far, and the road to congressional approval of major restrictions remains rocky.
The vote came four months after a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six staffers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, spurring Obama and legislators to address firearms violence. Congress hasn't approved sweeping gun restrictions since enacting an assault weapons ban 19 years ago, a prohibition that lawmakers failed to renew a decade later.
On Thursday, 50 Democrats, 16 Republicans and 2 independents opposed the conservative effort, while 29 Republicans and 2 Democrats supported it. Gun control supporters needed 60 votes to block the conservatives.
The vote opened the door to begin an emotion-laden debate on the legislation, which would subject more firearms buyers to federal background checks, strengthen laws against illicit gun trafficking and increase school safety aid. Advocates say the measures would make it harder for criminals and the mentally ill to get weapons.
Opponents argue that the restrictions would violate the Constitution's right to bear arms and would be ignored by criminals. Despite their defeat, conservatives were threatening to invoke a procedural rule forcing the Senate to wait 30 hours before it could begin considering amendments.