Senate background check deal gives new momentum to gun control, but major fight still ahead
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Conservative senators from both parties announced their support for expanding background checks for gun buyers Wednesday, giving a burst of momentum to advocates of stronger restrictions. But big questions remain about whether President Barack Obama can push significant gun controls through Congress.
The compromise between Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., boosted the chances that the Senate will agree to broaden required background checks, a step gun control groups laud as an effective way to keep weapons from criminals and the mentally ill. The senators are among the most conservative members of their parties, both have received "A'' ratings from the National Rifle Association, and their endorsements could make it easier for hesitant colleagues to back the effort.
Gun control advocates still face opposition from many Republican senators and resistance from moderate Democrats, including several facing re-election next year in GOP-leaning states. In the Republican-run House, leaders have shown little enthusiasm for Obama's ideas, making that chamber an even higher hurdle.
Under the agreement the two senators announced at the Capitol, background checks would be expanded to all for-profit transactions including sales at gun shows and online, with records kept by licensed gun-dealers who would handle the paperwork. Exempted would be noncommercial transactions such as between relatives. Currently, the system applies only to sales by the country's 55,000 federally licensed firearms dealers.
The agreement also contains provisions expanding firearms rights, and that concerns gun control supporters. Some restrictions on transporting guns across state lines would be eased, sellers would be shielded from lawsuits if the buyer passed a check but later used a firearm in a crime and gun dealers could conduct business in states where they don't live.
AP source: Senate plan would strengthen border security, make employers verify workers' status
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A bipartisan group of senators finalizing a landmark immigration bill has agreed to require greatly increased surveillance of the border and apprehensions of people trying to cross it, a person familiar with the proposals said Wednesday.
The legislation, to be released within days, would call for surveillance of 100 percent of the U.S. border with Mexico and apprehension of 90 percent of people trying to cross in certain high-risk areas. People living here illegally could begin to get green cards in 10 years but only if a new southern border security plan is in place, employers have adopted mandatory electronic verification of their workers' legal status and a new electronic exit system is operating at airports and seaports.
The person provided the information on condition of anonymity because the deliberations were private.
The contours of the tough new border security plans emerged as senators moved closer to unveiling sweeping legislation that would put some 11 million immigrants living here illegally on a path to citizenship and allow tens of thousands of high- and low-skilled workers into the country on new visa programs, in addition to securing the border.
Lawmakers and aides said all the major elements were complete, or close to. A final deal was near on a new visa for agriculture workers. There were small details to be dealt with on visas for high-tech workers, but Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said it wasn't enough to hold up the bill.
10 Things to Know for Thursday
Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Thursday:
1. HOW OBAMA AIMS TO BRIDGE THE BUDGET GAP
His plan would raise taxes on smokers and the wealthy, as well as trim Social Security benefits for millions.
Obama's budget: Trim Social Security benefits, raise smokers' taxes to trim federal deficits
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Mixing modest curbs on spending with tax increases reviled by Republicans, President Barack Obama proposed a $3.8 trillion budget on Wednesday that would raise taxes on smokers and wealthy Americans and trim Social Security benefits for millions.
Obama's 2014 blueprint combines a $242 billion infusion of new spending for road and rail projects, early education and jobs initiatives -- all favored by Democrats -- with longer-term savings from programs including Medicare and the military. It promises at least a start in cutting huge annual federal deficits.
The president pitched his plan as a good-faith offer to his GOP rivals since it incorporates a proposal he made to Republicans in December that wasn't radically different from a GOP plan drafted by House Speaker John Boehner. But it follows January's bitterly fought 10-year, $600 billion-plus tax increase that has stiffened GOP resolve against further tax hikes.
"I have already met Republicans more than halfway, so in the coming days and weeks I hope that Republicans will come forward and demonstrate that they're really as serious about the deficit and debt as they claim to be," Obama said.
He was having a dozen Senate Republicans to the White House for dinner Wednesday evening in hopes of building a dialogue on the budget and other topics.
Ga. gunman holding 4 firefighters shot dead; hostages injured but OK; SWAT officer hit
SUWANEE, Ga. (AP) -- An armed man who was having financial problems held four firefighters for hours in a suburban Atlanta home, demanding his cable and power be turned back on, before being shot dead when SWAT members stormed the house, authorities said Wednesday. The hostages had cuts and bruises from explosions that officers set off to distract the gunman before moving in, but they will be fine, a fire official said.
Minutes before the police announcement on the resolution, a huge blast could be heard a quarter-mile away from the home, shuddering through the Suwanee neighborhood, setting off car alarms.
Earlier Wednesday, five firefighters responded to what seemed like a routine medical call and were eventually taken hostage by an unidentified suspect inside the house, police said. The gunman released one of the firefighters to move a fire truck but held the other four.
Dozens of police and rescue vehicles surrounded the home and a negotiator was keeping in touch with the gunman, police said. The situation remained tense until the blast rocked the neighborhood of mostly two-story homes and well-kept lawns. Residents unable to get into their neighborhood because of the police cordon flinched and recoiled as the enormous blast went off.
Soon after the stun blast, officers exchanged gunfire with the suspect and a SWAT member was shot in the hand or arm, but should be fine, said Gwinnett County Police Cpl. Edwin Ritter. Ritter would not saw how the gunman was fatally shot, saying it was being investigated.
As world awaits North Korea missile test, calm Pyongyang residents say 'We will win war'
PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) -- As the world braced for a provocative missile launch by North Korea, with newscasts worldwide playing up tensions on the Korean Peninsula, the center of the storm was strangely calm.
The focus in Pyongyang on Wednesday was less on preparing for war and more on beautifying the capital ahead of the nation's biggest holiday: the April 15 birthday of the nation's founder, Kim Il Sung. Soldiers put down their rifles to blanket the barren ground with sod and students picked up shovels to help plant trees.
But the impoverished, tightly controlled nation that has historically used major holidays to draw the world's attention by showing off its military power could well mark the occasion by testing a missile designed to strike U.S. military installations in Japan and Guam.
South Korea's foreign minister said the prospect of a medium-range missile launch is "considerably high."
North Korean officials have not announced plans to launch a missile in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions barring Pyongyang from nuclear and missile activity.
Maine hermit, suspect in more than 1,000 burglaries, caught after 27 years living in the wild
ROME, Maine (AP) -- A man who lived like a hermit for decades in a makeshift camp in the woods and may be responsible for more than 1,000 burglaries for food and other staples has been caught in a surveillance trap at a camp he treated as a "Walmart," authorities said Wednesday.
Christopher Knight, 47, was arrested last week when he tripped a surveillance sensor set up by a game warden while stealing food from a camp for people with special needs in Rome, a town of about 1,000 whose population swells with the arrival of summer residents.
Authorities on Tuesday found the campsite where they believed Knight, known as the North Pond Hermit in local lore, has lived for 27 years.
Some residents say they've been aware of the hermit for years, often in connection with break-ins that have occurred. He was so well known to some summer cottage owners that they left food out for him so he wouldn't break in during the colder months, state Trooper Diane Vance said.
But others were hardly aware of the hermit living within their midst without detection since 1986.
Prosecutor in Jodi Arias murder trial says victim was 'extremely afraid' of defendant
PHOENIX (AP) -- The one-time boyfriend Jodi Arias has admitted killing was "extremely afraid" of her before his death as she stalked him while he pursued other relationships, the prosecutor in her murder trial said Wednesday, attempting to discredit a defense witness who says Arias suffered domestic abuse.
Psychotherapist Alyce LaViolette has been testifying for more than a week about her conclusion that Arias was a victim of physical and emotional abuse.
Arias says the killing was self-defense, and that on the day of Travis Alexander's death in June 2008 at his suburban Phoenix home, he attacked her and she was forced to fight for her life.
However, no other evidence -- other than Arias' accounts -- have been presented at trial showing Alexander had ever been physically violent.
Authorities say Arias planned the attack. She initially denied involvement then blamed it on masked intruders. Two years after her arrest, she said it was self-defense.
Doctors use brain scans to 'see' and measure pain and tell whether medicine is relieving it
In a provocative new study, scientists reported Wednesday that they were able to "see" pain on brain scans and, for the first time, measure its intensity and tell whether a drug was relieving it. Though the research is in its early stages, it opens the door to a host of possibilities.
Scans might be used someday to tell when pain is hurting a baby, someone with dementia or a paralyzed person unable to talk. They might lead to new, less addictive pain medicines. They might even help verify claims for disability.
"Many people suffer from chronic pain and they're not always believed. We see this as a way to confirm or corroborate pain if there is a doubt," said Tor Wager, a neuroscientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
He led the research, published in the New England Journal of Medicine. So far it is only on pain felt through the skin -- heat applied to an arm. More study needs to be done on more common kinds of pain, such as headaches, bad backs and pain from disease.
Independent experts say the research shows a way to measure objectively what is now one of life's most subjective experiences.
Entertainer Flavor Flav facing felony trial in domestic violence knife case in Las Vegas
LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Entertainer Flavor Flav is facing a trial on felony charges that he threatened his longtime girlfriend's 17-year-old son with a butcher knife during a family argument.
The 54-year-old former rap and reality TV star, whose legal name is William Jonathan Drayton Jr., didn't testify during a Wednesday evidence hearing in Las Vegas Justice Court.
But the teen did. He pointed from the witness stand toward Drayton at the defendant's table, identified him as the man wearing a clock around his neck, and told Justice of the Peace Melanie Andress-Tobiasson that Drayton chased him to a bedroom and stabbed the knife through the door during the argument early Oct. 17.
The teen quoted the obscenity he says Drayton used as the rapper threatened to kill him. Drayton was standing 2 feet away with the knife still in his hand, the boy said.
The Associated Press is not reporting the boy's name because he is a juvenile.