Key Democrat Pours Cold Water on Gun Background Checks Bill

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin says the bill he authored has no chance of passage.

A recent string of mass shootings has Democrats and gun safety advocates renewing their call for legislation to require background checks for firearm purchases. But West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, the Democratic co-author of the bill, says it's going nowhere fast.

"That bill's not going to come back up," Manchin told Bloomberg on Tuesday, "unless Republicans vote for it."

In 2013, after a gunman massacred 26 people at Sandy Hook elementary school, Manchin partnered with Republican Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey to write a bill that requires criminal background checks for people who buy a firearm at a gun show or over the Internet. Both senators had "A" ratings from the National Rifle Association. Despite overwhelming public support, the bill failed to overcome a filibuster in the Democratic-led Senate, falling to a 54-46 vote as it faced implacable opposition from the NRA and other gun rights group.

After mass shootings in recent weeks in Charleston, S.C., Chattanooga, Tenn., and Lafayette, La., some Democratic senators have argued that it's time to revisit the issue. On Tuesday, New York's Chuck Schumer and Connecticut's Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy stood alongside leaders of Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action at a Capitol Hill news conference to call for a vote on federal background check legislation "to keep guns out of dangerous hands," according to an advisory.

The grim reality for gun control advocates is that it's even less likely now than in 2013. Republicans have taken over the Senate after picking up nine seats in the midterm election last November. With few exceptions, they overwhelmingly oppose the bill, including purple state Republicans like Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Rob Portman of Ohio. No senator appears to have changed his or her mind since the 2013 vote.

"Everybody's on the record," Manchin said.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who voted against the Manchin-Toomey bill in 2013, suggested the Kentucky Republican has no interest in revisiting the bill. "He hasn't said anything about bringing up any anti-gun legislation," Don Stewart wrote in an e-mail.

Even as he saw long odds, Manchin stood by his proposal.

"It's pure common gun sense," the senator said. "We're not talking about gun control. We're talking about, strictly, filling the holes and the gaps that we have in commercial gun transactions, which is at gun shows and the Internet. That's all. Very simple."

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