WASHINGTON -- The Senate next week will take up the first major gun-control bill since it passed the assault weapon ban two decades ago after a solid bipartisan majority Thursday beat back an attempt to block the legislation.
Sixteen Republicans joined 50 Democrats and two independents in a 68-31 vote to end a filibuster by 14 conservatives as some families of Newtown shooting victims watched silently from the Senate gallery.
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Two Democrats from conservative states and 29 Republicans voted for the filibuster.
"The hard work starts now," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
Reid said he expects vigorous debate and many amendments during the next two weeks on a bill on which both sides have strong views and emotions.
White House spokesman Jay Carney called the vote a welcome development and an important first stage in passing a bill.
Opponents of the bill vowed a fight to protect gun rights.
A Senate Democratic leadership aide said a small group of Republicans were threatening to use procedures to force the Senate to take up to four days on each amendment vote.
"We will use the opportunity to make the case on the merits," said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), a filibuster leader.
Cruz said he opposes a gun bill that "makes a big splash but doesn't do anything" except "harass" lawful gun owners.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said his side will try to defend gun-safety measures from opponents' "pernicious amendments" while attempting to win passage. "We have a tough fight," Schumer said.
Reid said the first amendment he'll bring up will be the compromise struck Wednesday by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) to require background checks at gun shows and for online sales, but not private deals.
Reid said he also will bring up an assault weapon ban and a cap on the size of ammunition magazines, though neither is expected to pass.
Schumer said, "With the compromise bill we have, and with a vote we take today, we are turning the page against the NRA's dominance."
Schumer credited the efforts of Newtown families who flew to Washington Monday with President Barack Obama on Air Force One to lobby senators.
In the Senate gallery, several families of victims of the Newtown and other shootings watched the vote, then celebrated quietly in the hall with handshakes, hugs and some tears.
"I was very happy to see that this issue has finally transcended partisan lines, that they recognized that it is about saving lives," said Jillian Soto, of Newtown, in an interview.
Her sister, Victoria, died trying to protect her students from gunfire at Sandy Hook Elementary School, an attack that killed 20 children and six adults.
"There have been tears every day this week," Jillian Soto said. "My sister is dead and she's never going to come back."
Schumer choked up as he met later with Newtown family members in his office about the gun violence legislation.
"Your actions are not in vain," he told them. "They have had more effect on this issue than I have seen in the 20 years that I've been fighting for it."