The intense backlash against the senators who voted to block the expansion of gun sale background checks is already having an effect, as senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) are now signaling that they actually support background checks — despite their votes to stop them from passing the Senate.
Senator Flake saw his approval rating plummet to 32 percent in the wake of his decision to vote against senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey’s (R-PA) bipartisan compromise bill to expand background checks to cover all commercial gun sales. Flake also drew criticism for lying to a grieving mother about his intentions. Flake’s free-falling ratings left him as the least popular senator in the country, according to PPP — Flake himself described his current standing as “somewhere just below pond scum” — and apparently left the senator reconsidering his decision.
On Tuesday morning, Flake told CNN that he would be willing to reconsider his opposition to the bill if it were rewritten to loosen requirements on internet sales. According to Flake, under the Manchin-Toomey bill, if a gun owner emails or texts their friends about selling a gun or posts it to Facebook, “that is considered a commercial sale.”
While Flake said that he wasn’t sure if Senator Manchin could change the bill’s text in a way that satisfies him, he said he hopes that they can come to an agreement.
It’s unclear, however, whether Flake’s complaint is valid or merely an attempt to quiet his critics. As The Huffington Post points out, the Manchin-Toomey bill makes it clear that background checks wouldn’t be required for gun sales between friends and family members, and stipulates that background checks would only be required for internet gun sales that involve “an advertisement, posting, display, or other listing.” While the question of Facebook posts remains somewhat ambiguous, it seems clear that emails and text messages would be exempt.
Senator Ayotte made a similar attempt to explain away her opposition with a Tuesday editorial for Patch Amherst, in which she claimed, ” I want to set the record straight: I support effective background checks and in fact voted recently to improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).”
“Out-of-state special interests are running false ads attacking me and even lying about my efforts to prevent gun-related violence,” Ayotte wrote.
“Some of my colleagues want to expand the broken background check system we have now. In my view, we shouldn’t be expanding a flawed system,” she explained. “The focus should be on fixing the existing system, which criminals are flouting. We need to make sure we are enforcing current law and prosecuting those who attempt to illegally obtain firearms.”
To that end, Ayotte voted in favor of the National Rifle Association-backed amendment introduced by senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) — which would have focused on encouraging states to report mental health records in lieu of expanding background checks, in addition to making it easier to purchase and transport guns across state lines.
Like Flake, Ayotte faced heated criticism for her vote against Manchin-Toomey. Ayotte’s approval rating dropped a net 15 percent after the vote, and her recent town hall meetings have turned contentious as constituents — including the daughter of a victim of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting — confronted her for opposing the popular measure.
In addition to Flake and Ayotte, a spokesman for Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) told The Washington Post that the senator would be open to restarting background check talks if Manchin-Toomey were “significantly reworked.”
While the senators are clearly eager to make amends with the public for opposing a bill that 9 out of 10 Americans support, the Manchin-Toomey bill is still a long shot to be revived. Five senators would have to flip in order to move the bill through the Senate, and then it would have to pass through the significantly more right-wing House of Representatives. There, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) would need to violate the “Hastert Rule” — which states that the Speaker should only allow a vote on a bill if it is supported by a majority of the majority party — for expanded background checks to stand any chance of becoming law.
AP Photo/J Scott Applewhite, File