Both sides seek support in background check fight
By ALAN FRAM Associated Press April 16, 2013 3:14PM
WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican opposition is growing to a bipartisan Senate plan for expanding background checks for buyers of firearms, enough to put the proposal’s fate in jeopardy. But the measure may change as both sides compete for support in one of the pivotal fights in the battle over curbing guns.
The Senate continued debate Tuesday on a wide-ranging gun control bill, with the focus on a background check compromise struck last week between Republican Sen. Patrick Toomey and Democrat Joe Manchin. He said the vote on that amendment was likely to be delayed from midweek to late in the week, a move that would give both sides more time to win over supporters.
Even if their measure passes, it faces strong opposition in the Republican-led House of Representatives. Other gun control measures such as banning assault weapons and limiting the size of high-capacity ammunition magazines have been dropped as unlikely to win any legislative support.
The two senators met Tuesday with wounded former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, who have worked in recent months to bolster the gun control drive and are trying to line up Senate support for the effort. Giffords was wounded in a mass shooting in 2011 in Arizona.
“They’re helping immensely just by being here and talking to our colleagues,” Manchin said after their meeting. “We’re close but we sure need their help.”
In December, 20 children and six adults were shot dead at a school in Connecticut, galvanizing efforts to pass gun control legislation — the first in two decades. Some of the victims’ families, with the backing of President Barack Obama, have launched an increased effort to lobby lawmakers personally and push a gun control bill through a bitterly divided Congress.
Underscoring the bargaining under way, the two sponsors seemed willing to consider a change to their deal that would exempt gun buyers from background checks if they live hundreds of miles from licensed firearms dealers, one Senate aide said.
Obama, in an interview with NBC television’s “Today” show, urged lawmakers to pay attention to public support for expanding background checks and remember the slayings of 26 schoolchildren and staff in Connecticut.
“The notion that Congress would defy the overwhelming instinct of the American people after what we saw happen in Newtown, I think is unimaginable,” Obama said in the interview, aired Tuesday. He said it’s a given that the vote is politically difficult for some lawmakers “because the gun lobby is paying attention and has shown no willingness to budge.”
“I think we’ve got a good chance of seeing it pass if members of Congress are listening to the American people,” Obama said.
Many consider the Manchin-Toomey compromise the best hope for winning Senate approval to widen the background check system, designed to screen out the severely mentally ill, criminals and others from getting firearms. Background checks are widely considered the heart of the gun control drive.
Background checks are required only for sales handled by licensed gun dealers. The Manchin-Toomey measure would extend that to sales at advertised venues like gun shows and online, while exempting other transactions like those between relatives and friends.
The two senators’ deal doesn’t go as far as President Barack Obama wanted in response to the slayings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. But he has said it would represent progress.
From a group of 16 Repubican senators gun control advocates have considered possible allies, at least nine have now said they oppose the background check compromise and one said he is leaning against it.
Combined with the 31 senators who voted against debating the overall gun bill last week, that could bring potential opponents of expanding background checks to 41 — just enough votes to block the Senate from considering the compromise. But in the heated political climate and heavy lobbying certain in the run-up to the vote, minds on both sides could change.
Associated Press writer Nedra Pickler contributed to this report.