Senate plans gun background check - WNCN: News, Weather

Senate plans gun background check

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Associated Press Associated Press
WASHINGTON -

A bipartisan effort to expand background checks for firearms purchasers was in deep trouble as the Senate approaches a long-awaited vote Wednesday on the cornerstone of the drive to curb gun violence in the wake of the Connecticut school massacre.

As the showdown drew near, an Associated Press-GfK poll showed ebbing public support for tightening gun control laws.

With the roll call just hours away, three more senators — Republican Kelly Ayotte and Democrats Heidi Heitkamp and Mark Pryor — said they opposed the background check measure.

Their announcements, along with opposition from other Republicans and moderate Democrats, left supporters heading toward defeat unless they could turn votes around in the final hours, a near impossible task.

"As of this morning, we're short. We need more votes. It's close," Sen. Joe Manchin, a sponsor of the background check compromise, said in a brief interview Wednesday. Asked how he could get the needed votes with so many opponents, he said, "We're just hoping the good Lord will enter their heart and maybe change a few."

Rejection of the provision would mark a jarring setback for gun control advocates, who had hoped December's slayings of 20 young children and six educators at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut would sway Congress to curb firearms violence.

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.

The White House said it wasn't giving up hope. Presidential spokesman Jay Carney said everyone, including Obama, was working on building support for the matter Wednesday.

"We believe that there is a path — a very difficult path, but a path — to get to 60," Carney said, referring to the 60-vote threshold needed to block a filibuster. "There ought to be a path to 100."

The Senate gun bill would extend background checks to nearly all gun purchases, toughen penalties against illegal gun trafficking and add small sums to school safety programs. However, even if passed, the bill stops well short of Obama's original call to ban assault rifles and the high capacity magazines that leave shooters able to fire large bursts of ammunition without having to reload.

Obama has since made the near universal background checks the heart of his gun control plan.

"Every once and awhile we are confronted with an issue that should transcend politics," Obama said in an interview that aired Wednesday on NBC's "Today" show. "And now's the time for us to take some measure of action that's going to prevent some of these tragedies from happening again."

Perhaps helping explain Democrats' problems, an AP-GfK poll this month showed that 49 percent of Americans support stricter gun laws. That was down from 58 percent who said so in January — a month after the December killings propelled gun violence into a national issue.

Just over half the public — 52 percent — expressed disapproval in the new survey of how Obama has handled gun laws. Weeks after the Newtown slayings, Obama made a call for near universal background checks the heart of his gun control plan.

In a climactic day, the Senate planned to hold eight other votes Wednesday besides the one on background checks, all of them amendments to a broad gun control measure.

They included Democratic proposals to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, which are expected to lose; a Republican proposal requiring states to honor other states' permits allowing concealed weapons, which faces a close vote; and a Republican substitute for the overall gun measure.

The concealed weapons amendment, seen by advocates as protecting gun rights, was vehemently opposed by gun control groups, who say it would allow more guns into states with stricter firearms laws.

Even if a gun control bill passes the Senate, it would face a tough road to approval in the Republican-led House of Representatives and could possibly die there.

The Senate votes were coming a day after former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, badly wounded in a 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona, and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, tried to rally support for gun control by visiting Capitol Hill and attending a private lunch with Democratic senators. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called the lunch — senators said it included emotional speeches from lawmakers — "as moving as any" he has attended.

Background checks, aimed at screening out criminals and the seriously mentally ill from getting firearms, now apply only to purchases handled by licensed firearms dealers.

Wednesday's first vote was on an amendment by Democratic Sen. Manchin and Republican Sen. Patrick Toomey, extending the background checks to firearms sales at gun shows and online. The compromise was widely seen as advocates' best chance for winning enough Republican votes to muscle broadened checks through the Senate.

Opponents say expanded background checks would be ignored by criminals and violate the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which guarantees the right to bear arms. They fear that it could lead to a national registry of gun owners that would facilitate taxing or confiscating their firearms.

No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Dick Durbin said Democrats would need support from nine or 10 Republicans — a daunting task.

Opponents will need just 41 of the Senate's 100 votes to derail the Manchin-Toomey background check plan.

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 massacre at Sandy Hook.

"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.

Opposition to tougher gun control legislation, including expanded background checks, has been led by the National Rifle Association, the influential gun rights lobbying group.

NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said the organization was spending $500,000 on an online video ad on conservative and Washington-area websites that cites a survey from a police-oriented website showing opposition to gun control proposals.

"Tell your senator to listen to America's police, instead of listening to Obama and Bloomberg," said the ad, referring to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has spent millions from his own fortune on ads advocating gun control measures.


Associated Press writers Stephen Ohlemacher, Henry Jackson and Jim Abrams contributed to this report.

 

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