The leading Democrat in the US Senate has begun the process to hold votes on two bills to tighten America’s gun laws following the mass shooting at a Texas school on Tuesday, but warned they were unlikely to pass in the face of Republican opposition.

Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader, has begun the so-called “Rule 14” process, paving the way to bring the bills to a vote as soon as this week. The measures, which have already passed the House of Representatives, would force those looking to buy guns at gun shows or on the internet to undergo background checks, and would give the FBI more time to investigate potential purchasers.

Schumer warned on Wednesday however that he was reluctant to push ahead with such a vote unless it had a chance of success, in a sign of how powerless Congress is to act on such a divisive issue.

In a speech on the floor of the Senate, Schumer said: “My Republican colleagues can work with us now. I know this is a slim prospect — very slim, all too slim. We’ve been burnt so many times before. But this is so important.”

He added: “There are some who want this body to quickly vote on sensible gun safety legislation . . . I believe that accountability votes are important, But sadly, this isn’t a case of the American people not knowing where their senators stand. They know.”

Nineteen children and two adults died in the shooting, which police said was carried out by an 18-year old gunman. Another 18-year-old male has been charged with killing 10 people in a shooting at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, less than two weeks ago.

US President Joe Biden spoke on Tuesday night to condemn the attacks and implore Republicans to back tighter gun control. “Why are we willing to live with this carnage? Why do we keep letting this happen? Where in God’s name is our backbone to have the courage to deal with this?” Biden said.

Previous attempts to enforce tighter background controls have stalled in the Senate after failing to secure enough support to bypass a filibuster, which requires 60 votes in a chamber split 50-50 along party lines.

Dick Durbin, the Democratic chair of the Senate judiciary committee, said he would schedule a hearing on gun violence, but not until after this weekend’s Memorial day break.

Senate Republicans have already suggested they are unlikely to change their votes this time. Ted Cruz, the senator from Texas, on Tuesday accused Democrats of trying to politicise the issue and called instead for armed law enforcement officers to be deployed in schools.

At the victory party for Herschel Walker, who won his primary to be the Republican candidate for senator from Georgia on Tuesday, party supporters booed when Biden called for tougher gun control.

Speaking on the Senate floor on Wednesday, Mitch McConnell, the most senior Republican in the chamber, did not mention the possibility of tighter gun laws. Instead he quoted the Bible, saying: “The Lord is near to the broken-hearted.”

Schumer meanwhile blamed the powerful National Rifle Association, which is a major donor to members of Congress, for Republicans’ resistance to legislative change. “The NRA has made it all but impossible for even the bare minimum to move forward in Congress, and the other side is all too ready to bow in obeisance to the NRA and service to their whims,” he said.

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