Senate rejects bipartisan plan expanding background checks for guns

Vice President Joe Biden speaks with former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz., during the dedication of a room in the Capitol Visitors Center to slain congressional staffer Gabriel Zimmerman on Capitol Hill, in Washington, on Tuesday, April 16, 2013. Zimmerman died two years ago in the Tucson, Ariz., attack that critically wounded Giffords and took six lives. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Vice President Joe Biden speaks with former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz., during the dedication of a room in the Capitol Visitors Center to slain congressional staffer Gabriel Zimmerman on Capitol Hill, in Washington, on Tuesday, April 16, 2013. Zimmerman died two years ago in the Tucson, Ariz., attack that critically wounded Giffords and took six lives. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

UPDATE:

Senate Republicans, backed by a small band of rural-state Democrats, turned away legislation Wednesday to tighten restrictions on the sale of firearms, rejecting repeated appeals from President Barack Obama and personal pleas by families of the victims of last winter's mass elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

Attempts to ban assault-style rifles and high capacity ammunition magazines also faced certain defeat in a series of showdown votes four months after a gunman killed 20 elementary school children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary.

The background check measure commanded a majority of senators, 54-46, but that was well short of the 60 votes needed to advance. Forty-one Republicans and five Democrats sided to scuttle the plan.

In the hours before the key vote, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., bluntly accused the National Rifle Association of making false claims about the expansion of background checks that he and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., were backing.

"Where I come from in West Virginia, I don't know how to put the words any plainer than this: That is a lie. That is simply a lie," he said, accusing the organization of telling its supporters that friends, neighbors and some family members would need federal permission to transfer ownership of firearms to one another.

The NRA did not respond immediately to the charge, but issued a statement after the vote that restated the claim. The proposal "would have criminalized certain private transfers of firearms between honest citizens, requiring lifelong friends, neighbors and some family members to get federal government permission to exercise a fundamental right or face prosecution," said a statement from Chris Cox, a top lobbyist for the group.

Said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, "Expanded background checks would not have prevented Newtown. Criminals do not submit to background checks."

Senate votes were set on a total of nine provisions, some advanced by lawmakers on each side of an issue in which Democrats from rural or Southern states generally lined up with the overwhelming majority of Republicans.

Whatever the outcome, the events were unlikely to be the last word on an issue that Democratic leaders shied away from for nearly two decades until Obama picked up on it after the Newtown shootings.

Vice President Joe Biden presided over the Senate, a symbolic move since each proposal required a 60-vote majority to pass and he would not be called upon to break any ties. Democratic aides said in advance the issue would be brought back to the Senate in the future, giving gun control supporters more time to win over converts to change the outcome.

The day's key test concerned the background checks, designed to prevent criminals and the seriously mentally ill from purchasing firearms. Under current law, checks are required only when guns are purchased from federally licensed firearms dealers. The proposal by Manchin and Toomey called for extending the requirement to other sales at gun shows and on the Internet.

Their bipartisan approach was widely seen as advocates' best chance for winning enough GOP votes to change current law in a way that Obama and gun control groups support. But foes had proposals of their own, including one that would require states that issue concealed weapons permits to honor the permits from other states.

In the hours leading to a vote on the background check measure, Democrats Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Republican Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire became the latest senators to announce their opposition.

On the vote, Democratic Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska and Max Baucus of Montana joined Pryor and Heitkamp in voting against the proposal. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a supporter of the plan, switched his vote to the prevailing "no" side to permit him to call for a revote in the future.

Begich, Pryor and Baucus are all seeking re-election next year.

Among Republicans, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Mark Kirk of Illinois, John McCain of Arizona and Toomey sided with Democrats.

Numerous polls in recent months have shown support for enhanced gun control measures, including background checks, though it may be weakening.

An Associated Press-GfK poll this month showed that 49 percent of Americans support stricter gun laws, down from 58 percent in January. In that recent survey, 38 percent said they want the laws to remain the same and 10 percent want them eased.

Obama has made enactment of greater curbs a priority on his domestic agenda in the months since the massacre at Newtown, making several trips outside Washington to try and build support. Last week, he traveled to Connecticut, and he invited several parents to fly back to Washington with him aboard Air Force One so they could personally lobby lawmakers.

To an unusual degree for professional politicians, some senators said afterward that they had not wanted to meet with the mothers and fathers of the dead, or said it was difficult to look at photographs that the parents carried of their young children, now dead.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said before Wednesday's vote, "I think that in some cases, the president has used them as props, and that disappoints me."

Some of the parents of the Sandy Hook victims watched the votes from the spectators' gallery that rings the Senate floor. They were joined by relatives of victims of other mass shootings in Arizona, Virginia and Colorado.

At the White House, press secretary Jay Carney said some of them had met earlier in the day with lawmakers, who he said should "consider who they're representing.

"Ninety percent of the American people support expanded background checks," he said.

Democratic aides said in advance that the day's events would end debate on the issue for the time being. But they added they expect Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to bring it back to the floor in the coming months, after supporters of greater controls have had more time to rally public support.

The NRA told lawmakers it intended to keep track of how the votes were cast, and consider them in making decisions about its efforts in the mid-term elections for Congress next year.

An opposing group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, funded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said it would do likewise.

The NRA has a long track record in electoral politics, and is viewed by lawmakers in both political parties as unusually effective. Bloomberg's organization has yet to be tested.

The day began with an unexpected announcement from Reid, who has long been a political ally of the NRA. In remarks on the Senate floor, he said he intended to vote for a ban on assault weapons "because maintaining law and order is more important than satisfying conspiracy theorists who believe in black helicopters."

In the AP-GfK poll, among independents, support for stricter gun laws dipped from 60 percent in January to 40 percent now. About three-fourths of Democrats supported them then and now, while backing among Republicans for looser laws about doubled to 19 percent.

The survey was conducted from April 11-15 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,004 randomly chosen adults and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

EARLIER:

Gun control: Senate vote nears, background check bill in peril

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan effort to expand background checks is in deep trouble as the Senate approaches a long-awaited vote on the linchpin of the drive to curb gun violence. As the showdown draws near, an Associated Press-GfK poll shows ebbing public support for tightening gun control laws.

In the run-up to the roll call expected Wednesday, so many Republicans had declared their opposition to the background check measure that supporters — mostly Democrats — seemed headed to defeat unless they could turn votes around in the final hours. Supporters seemed likely to lose some moderate Democratic senators as well.

"It's a struggle," New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the No. 3 Senate Democrat, conceded Tuesday.

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 of 20 children and six aides at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school propelled gun violence into a national issue.

Just over half the public — 52 percent — expressed disapproval in the new survey of how President Barack 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 GOP 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.

The votes were coming a day after former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, badly injured in a 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz., and her husband, Mark Kelly, tried galvanizing gun control support by visiting Capitol Hill and attending a private lunch with Democratic senators. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., 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 Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., extending the checks to firearms sales at gun shows and online. The compromise was widely seen as advocates' best chance for winning enough GOP votes to muscle broadened checks through the Senate.

As the roll call approached, Manchin and others kept saying they were close — but never said they had the votes they needed.

"We're close, but we sure need their help," Manchin told reporters after he and Toomey met privately with Giffords and Kelly.

In a sign that the two senators faced a steep path to victory, they were no longer considering a change to their bill that would have exempted people who live far from gun dealers.

Such people have a difficult time getting to dealers' shops to have background checks performed. The hope had been to attract votes from Alaska and North Dakota senators, and the sponsors' decision to move ahead without it suggested that their effort to win over those senators would fail.

No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Dick Durbin of Illinois 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.

Thirty-one senators voted last week to completely block debate on overall gun legislation. Just two were Democrats — Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska.

If all 31 oppose the Manchin-Toomey measure — and that is not certain — opponents would need just 10 more votes to prevail.

So far, 11 of 16 Republicans who voted last week to let debate on the gun bill begin have said they will oppose Manchin-Toomey. That would give foes of expanded background checks 42 potential votes — one more than they need to win.

Still uncertain was support from some Democrats from GOP-heavy states, including Max Baucus of Montana, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. Baucus and Landrieu face re-election next year.

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.

The AP-GfK poll found that overall, 49 percent said gun laws should be made stricter while 38 percent said they should stay the same.

Among independents, support for stricter gun laws dipped from 60 percent in January to 40 percent now. About three-fourths of Democrats supported them then and now, while backing among Republicans for looser laws about doubled to 19 percent.

The AP-GfK poll was conducted from April 11-15 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,004 randomly chosen adults and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

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Comments » 4

August8 writes:

"STOP THIS"

August8 writes:

Is Joe Biden transparent or what, what a fool.

liberator100 writes:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

August8 writes:

in response to liberator100:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Yep,Yep,Yep, right on brother, right on !

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