By Gregory Korte and Jackie Kucinich, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - For the first time in years, gun-control advocates may
have some legislative victories to celebrate over the next few days as
the Senate appears to have cleared key hurdles to bring a broad package
of new gun rules to the floor.
They are still a long way from becoming law.
four months after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary and two decades
since President Clinton signed the last major gun-control law, the
Senate is poised to take up a gun bill that would expand background
checks, beef up a national criminal database and crack down on straw
purchases of firearms.
The Senate first has to clear a 60-vote
threshold to end a threatened filibuster by conservative Republicans,
but that seemed more likely Wednesday after a bipartisan deal was
announced to expand background checks for most commercial gun sales.
he said he wished the Senate background check deal covered more
transactions, President Obama said the deal brokered by Sens. Joe
Manchin, D-W.Va. and Pat Toomey, R-Pa. represents "welcome and significant bipartisan progress."
Manchin-Toomey amendment is more friendly to gun buyers than Obama's
proposal, closing loopholes for gun shows and Internet purchases but
exempting most private transactions. In some areas, it would expand gun
rights, allowing for easier transport of guns across state lines and
accepting a state concealed-carry permit in lieu of a background check.
strengthen rights of law-abiding gun owners," Manchin said, explaining
that the background checks are designed "to keep people from having guns
who shouldn't have them."
"I don't consider criminal
background checks to be gun control. It's just common sense," Toomey
said. "If you pass ... you get to buy a gun. It's the people who fail
that we don't want having guns."
Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence expressed measured enthusiasm.
"There is still a long road ahead and this bipartisan bill gives us
reason to be optimistic," Brady Campaign President Dan Gross said.
National Rifle Association remains opposed to any expansion of
background checks, saying they won't prevent another school shooting.
But spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said the private sale exemption was a
The NRA did offer support for a
second agreement Wednesday, worked out by Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.,
and Susan Collins, R-Maine, to strengthen the penalties for firearm
trafficking and for people who buy guns for those banned from owning
and Toomey said their own amendment didn't guarantee they would vote in
favor of the bill, depending on what other language is included on
issues like banning assault weapons or limiting the capacity of
ammunition magazines - two issues currently not in the bill being
offered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Tom Coburn, R-Okla. - whom Manchin and Toomey touted as giving
"invaluable" input - said he didn't see how any background-check
provision could be effective. And Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said "expanding background checks is about the most false sense of security you could provide to anybody."
But the first debate Thursday will be the
threatened filibuster led by Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of
Texas and Mike Lee of Utah. Lee said a filibuster would allow "three
more days to assess how the bill would impact the rights of law-abiding
"This debate is not just about magazine clips
and pistol grips," he said on the Senate floor. "It's about the purpose
of the Second Amendment." Such far-reaching legislation should be
subjected to a 60-vote majority to ensure bipartisan consensus, he said.
was not clear how many senators would vote to block the bill. Outside
the Senate chamber Wednesday, senator after senator told reporters they
were still reviewing the language. "Sounds very promising," said Sen.
Susan Collins, R-Maine. "We'll see," said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. when
asked whether he would vote to bring the bill to the floor for debate.
even if Reid has the votes to overcome a filibuster, it is not clear
what parts of the president's gun agenda have enough votes to pass the
Senate - let alone the Republican-controlled House. House Speaker John
Boehner, R-Ohio, declined to comment on the Senate compromise Wednesday,
or whether it would get a vote in the House.
Boehner has said
the House will not take up any gun legislation until the Senate passes a
bill. "I want to wait and see what actually passes over in the Senate,"
he said. "I've made it clear: If the Senate passes a bill, the House
will review it."
And the Senate bill will take time. Reid said
Wednesday, "We're going to have amendments on this. Some of them are
going to take a little bit of time. We're not going to finish the bill
this week. I don't know if we'll finish it next week. But that doesn't
really matter. Are we going to legislate?"
Still, supporters of gun control said they were as
optimistic as they've been at any time since the Dec. 14 shooting
deaths of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in
With the families of Sandy Hook victims
crying in the Senate gallery, Connecticut's two Democratic senators
spent the day eulogizing the 6- and 7-year-old victims killed by a lone
shooter with a .223-caliber rifle and a 30-shot magazine.
can you not stop assault weapons and high-capacity magazines that were
integral to that tragedy in Newtown?" Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.,
said. The Manchin-Toomey deal was "a promising and profoundly
constructive turning point in this process" that makes a vote much more