On the sixth anniversary of the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history at Virginia Tech, former congresswoman and Tucson shooting survivor Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, headed to Capitol Hill to meet with senators in a final push to gather the 60 votes needed to add an expansion of background checks to include gun shows and the Internet as part of the broader gun reform legislation.
Giffords and Kelly, who formed a political action committee called Americans for Responsible Solutions in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, met with Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA), who authored the compromise amendment on expanding background checks, as well as other senators.
On Monday, GOP leaders bowed to public pressure by announcing they will not whip against a background bill. Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) said Republicans should “vote their conscience.”
But in a sign of how contentious even modest gun reform proposals are in today’s Congress, Manchin and Toomey are talking about watering down the amendment further to try to lure rural lawmakers. The Huffington Post‘s Sam Stein reports that “talks have centered on exempting gun sellers whose businesses are located far from a federal firearms licensee — perhaps outside a 100-mile radius — from performing background checks on gun buyers.” The changes could delay consideration of the background check bill to Friday or next week.
As of Tuesday, the whip count stands at 52 yes votes and 38 no votes, with 10 senators still undecided. The six Democratic senators who have yet to state a position are: Max Baucus (MT), Heidi Heitkamp (NC), Mary Landrieu (NC), Mark Pryor (AR), Mark Begich (AK), and Joe Donnelly (IN). The four undecided Republicans are: Kelly Ayotte (NH), Dean Heller (NV), John McCain (AZ), and Lisa Murkowski (AK).
A new Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that a majority 55 percent of Americans and 52 percent of gun owners think it’s “possible to make gun laws without interfering with gun rights.” Also, a majority 56 percent of Americans support a federal assault weapons ban and a ban on large-capacity magazines, and 86 percent of Americans support a law expanding background checks to gun shows and online.
In a sign there will be political consequences for failing to support expanding background checks and other popular gun safety measures, Kelly, in a reaction to Senator Jeff Flake’s (R-AZ) Facebook post Monday night announcing he would oppose the Manchin-Toomey amendment, said Americans for Responsible Solutions would work to replace Flake, a friend of Giffords’, in 2018 if he continued to oppose bipartisan gun reform.
“Friendship is one thing, saving people’s lives — especially first-graders — is another,” said Kelly.
Also on Monday, the organization Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America released the first of a series of ads putting a spotlight on what the organization calls “the absurdity of our country’s current lax laws and weak regulation of guns.” The ad shows two schoolchildren, one holding a banned version of Little Red Riding Hood, while the other child holds an assault weapon. The ad says “one child is holding something that’s been banned in America to protect them. Guess which one.”
In addition to the proposal to allow rural private sellers to bypass background checks, gun safety advocates are concerned about language already in the Manchin-Toomey amendment that would weaken many gun laws. The bill exempts private sales between friends and family members, allows “reciprocal concealed carry” that would allow anyone with a gun permit to carry their concealed weapon across state lines, bans the creation of a national gun registry, and makes it easier for mentally ill people to buy firearms.
“This legislation could change Times Square into the OK Corral,” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) said. “To allow criminals to go to other states, get a permit for concealed carry, and then carry their guns concealed here is outrageous.”
The National Memo reported on Monday that one gun rights advocate said “we snookered the other side” on the Manchin-Toomey bill.
“It’s a Christmas tree,” Alan Gottlieb, founder and executive vice president of the Second Amendment Foundation said. “We just hung a million ornaments on it. We’re taking the background check and making it a pro-gun bill. Unfortunately, some of my colleagues haven’t quite figured it out yet because they weren’t sitting in the room writing it. My staff was.”