Gun Control Advocates to Continue Push for Tougher Laws

A U.S. senator is trying to revive his proposal to expand background checks for gun purchasers after the Senate defeated the measure earlier this month.

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia is seeking to persuade a group of Democrats and Republicans who voted against the measure to change their votes or accept revisions to the amendment to win them over.

“Are there people who would be comfortable if there is a change in a definition? Is there an area that needs to be tightened up?” Manchin told reporters on April 23. He and Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania had negotiated the compromise plan.

The Senate defeated the plan for expanded gun background checks April 17 on a 54-46 vote, with 60 needed. Five Democrats joined Republicans in opposition. The vote scuttled a watered-down version of President Barack Obama’s gun-control plan he proposed after the December massacre of 20 children and six school employees in Newtown, Connecticut.

A Democratic aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the fresh effort is focused on senators including Republican Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, the only Northeastern senator to oppose the background check measure; Mark Pryor, an Arkansas Democrat; and Mark Begich, a Democrat, and Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, both of Alaska.

Manchin sent a letter today to senators who voted against the bill, asking for changes he should consider to win their future support.

“You don’t just not continue working,” he said.

Advocates want to gain enough support for a new vote before legislation to rewrite immigration laws and raise the federal debt ceiling dominate the congressional agenda in the next several months, the aide said. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid probably won’t bring up the proposal until Democrats have the 60 votes needed to advance legislation, the aide said.

Internet Purchases

Federal law requires a background check to buy a gun from a licensed dealer. The Manchin-Toomey amendment would require background checks for gun purchases over the Internet and between private parties at gun shows. Polls have shown 90 percent of the U.S. public supports expanding background checks.

Manchin said one possible change he is discussing with senators is ensuring that people who sell guns to relatives are exempted from background checks, even if the sale takes place over the Internet.

The National Rifle Association, the nation’s largest pro-gun lobby, said the expanded background checks would lead to a national gun registry. Federal law bars such a registry, and licensed gun dealers have kept sales records since 1968.

Manchin and Toomey had sought to include their amendment in a broader measure that also would increase funding for school safety and set new penalties for gun trafficking.

Pressuring Senators

Manchin’s effort may depend on gun-control activists’ attempts to pressure senators who voted against the measure through television and newspaper ads and protests at their offices.

A group called the Progressive Change Campaign Committee bought newspaper ads targeting Pryor, Begich and Senators Max Baucus of Montana and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, all Democrats. It also plans television spots. In addition to Ayotte, Republicans the group is targeting include Dean Heller of Nevada and Bob Corker of Tennessee.

Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana said it may take time before lawmakers are willing to vote for the broader legislation. She is one of two Democrats from pro-gun states who face re-election in 2014 and who voted for the Manchin-Toomey amendment.

‘Get Re-Elected’

“There are a lot of things that have to happen,” Landrieu said. “People have to get re-elected.” Even so, she said she doesn’t view her vote as a political liability.

“The majority of people in my state and around the country genuinely believe that criminals and people that are mentally unstable should not have easy access to guns,” said Landrieu. “While it was a tough vote, it is a rational vote in my view and mostly I’ve gotten mostly positive comments.”

Toomey’s approval rating has climbed in his home state after working with Democrat Manchin on the background check measure. An April 19-24 Quinnipiac University poll released today said Toomey’s approval rating was 48 percent, higher than the 43 percent rating he received in March.

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