The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

State News

April 15, 2013

Background check deal is in jeopardy in Senate

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan proposal to expand background checks to more gun buyers seemed in jeopardy Monday as a growing number of Republican senators expressed opposition to the proposal, perhaps enough to derail it. But there was plenty of time for lobbying and deal-making to affect the outcome, and the sponsors seemed willing to carve out at least one exemption in an effort to drum up votes.

The White House said President Barack Obama was calling lawmakers, as both sides hunted support for a nail-biting showdown.

As of Monday evening, some senators were saying the vote now appeared likely late this week, rather than midweek as top Democrats have hoped. Such a delay would give both sides more time to find support.

“The game hasn’t even started yet, let alone over,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who reached a background check compromise last week with Sen. Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania on which the Senate was preparing to vote.

In one sign of the bargaining underway, Manchin and Toomey seemed willing to consider a change to their deal exempting gun buyers from background checks who live hundreds of miles from licensed firearms dealers, said one Senate aide.

The change might help win support from senators from Alaska and perhaps North Dakota, said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private discussions.

At stake is what has become the heart of this year’s gun control drive in response to December’s killing of children and staff at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.

Supporters consider a broadening of the buyers subjected to background checks to be the most effective step lawmakers can take, and Obama urged near universal checks in the plan he unveiled in January.

Sixteen Republicans voted last week to reject an effort by conservatives that would have blocked the Senate from even considering a broad bill restricting firearms.

With that debate underway, Democrats hope to win enough supporters from this group to gain passage of the first amendment to that bill – the compromise between Manchin and Toomey, which expands background checks but less broadly than Obama has wanted.

By Monday evening, nine Republican senators from that group said they would oppose the Manchin-Toomey plan and one was leaning against it.

Combined with the 31 senators who voted against debating the overall gun bill last week, that would bring potential opponents of expanding background checks to 41 –  just enough votes to block the Senate from considering the compromise.

“I’m not going to vote for it. It’s not the right thing to do,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., who was among the 16 who voted last week to allow the debate to begin.

But in the heated political climate and heavy lobbying certain in the run-up to the vote, minds on both sides could change.

Opponents say expanded checks would violate the Constitution’s right to bear arms and would be ignored by criminals. They are forcing supporters of the background check plan to win 60 of the Senate’s 100 votes, a high hurdle.

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