Politics

April 10, 2013

Bipartisan deal on background checks is close

Alan Fram / The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – A bipartisan deal seems imminent on expanding background checks to more gun buyers, an agreement that could build support for President Barack Obama's drive to curb firearms violence.

Joe Manchin
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Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., answers reporters' questions as he leaves the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 9, 2013, after a meeting on gun control. Reid's determination to stage a vote came despite continued inconclusive talks between Manchin, Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., aimed at finding compromise on expanding background checks to more gun purchasers. But Manchin left a meeting in Reid’s office late Tuesday and said he hoped a deal could be completed on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Harry Reid
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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., arrives to speak with reporters following a Democratic strategy session at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, April 9, 2013. Reid said he plans showdown vote on gun control on Thursday . (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Meanwhile, the Senate is ready for an opening vote on restricting guns as Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., set a roll call for Thursday on starting consideration of the firearms legislation. Odds are growing that Democrats will win enough Republican support to thwart an effort by conservatives and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to block consideration from even starting.

"I hope Republicans will stop trying to shut down debate and start engaging in the tough issues we were sent to Washington to tackle," Reid said.

Together, the developments were a boost for gun control advocates battling for restrictions in the wake of December's shootings that killed 20 first-graders and six staffers at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.

Even so, the ultimate fate of gun legislation remains unclear, clouded by opposition from many Republicans and moderate Democrats in the Democratic-led Senate and the Republican-run House. Many critics say the proposal would violate the Second Amendment right to bear arms and burden law-abiding gun owners.

"We should focus law enforcement resources on the bad guys," said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., were expected to announce a background check compromise on Wednesday. Subjecting more firearms purchases to federal background checks has been the chief goal of Obama and gun control supporters, who promote the system as a way to prevent criminals and other risky people from getting the weapons.

After weeks of negotiations, Manchin and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters late Tuesday that a gun control agreement was close.

The emerging deal would expand required background checks for sales at gun shows and online but exempt transactions like face-to-face, noncommercial purchases, said Senate staffers and lobbyists, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private talks. Currently, the checks are required only for sales handled through licensed gun dealers.

Though many details of the emerging agreement were unclear, Manchin and Toomey are among their parties' most conservative members and a deal could make it easier for some hesitant senators to support the background check measure, at least for now.

Some Republicans might vote to begin debate on the legislation but eventually oppose the measure on final passage. Other parts of Obama's gun effort already seem likely to face defeat, including proposed bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

The gun legislation Reid wants the Senate to debate would extend the background check requirement to nearly all gun sales. Assuming the deal between Manchin and Toomey is completed, Reid would try to replace that language with their agreement once debate begins, a move that would require a vote.

The overall gun bill also tightens federal laws against illegal gun sales and slightly increases federal aid for school safety.

Thirteen conservatives have signed a letter saying they will block consideration of the measure, and McConnell said he will back that move. That will force Democrats to round up 60 votes to overcome the conservatives.

At least eight Republicans have said they want to begin debate or have indicated a willingness to consider it, a number that would be expected to grow if the background check agreement proves successful.

(Continued on page 2)

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