Gun control advocates are pressing Democrats to make expanded federal background checks for firearms buyers a cornerstone of the gun control legislation the Senate plans to debate next month, calling it the best way for lawmakers to salvage a meaningful response to December’s elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is widely expected to include a broadening of the background system in the overall gun legislation, say Senate aides and lobbyists who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal Democratic deliberations.
They caution he has yet to make a final decision as he waits to see if senators can strike a bipartisan deal on the proposal. If they don’t, he will have to calculate whether to introduce a more modest overall gun bill without background checks or dare Republicans to scuttle a bolder one that includes the expanded system.
Background checks are designed to keep guns from criminals, people with serious mental problems and others. The checks are currently required only for sales involving federally licensed gun dealers, not for private transactions at gun shows or online.
President Barack Obama and other supporters say the system helps keep dangerous people from getting guns and should be expanded to virtually all firearms transactions. The National Rifle Association and other opponents say the checks are easily avoided by criminals who get their weapons illegally, and say expanding them would be a step toward a government registry of firearms owners — which is forbidden by federal law.
In a hint of possible movement, three senators who have spent weeks searching for a bipartisan deal are considering several options, including one that requiring background checks and record keeping for private sales at gun shows and commercial sales online. It would exclude in-person, non-commercial transactions between people who know each other. The idea was described by a lobbyist and Senate aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private talks.
The three senators are No. 2 Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York, a liberal; moderate Democrat Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who has an NRA A-rating for his votes; and moderate Mark Kirk (R-Ill.).
On Thursday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a leader of hundreds of mayors seeking stricter gun curbs, stepped up pressure on Congress to expand background checks, saying there it would save lives and win broad public support.