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
As the showdown drew near, an Associated Press-GfK poll showed ebbing public support for tightening gun control laws.
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.
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."
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.
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."
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
checks, aimed at screening out criminals and the seriously mentally ill
from getting firearms, now apply only to purchases handled by licensed
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.
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
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.
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.
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.