WASHINGTON (AP) — A bipartisan proposal to expand background checks for U.S. gun buyers faces an uncertain fate this week as debate begins in the Senate, with its sponsors saying that a vote would be too close to call.
The plan picked up some key support from opposition Republicans over the weekend, but several Democrats from gun-friendly states are expected to oppose the measure.
The December shooting of 20 children and six adults at a school in Connecticut has spurred the high-profile effort to pass gun control legislation — the first in two decades. Some of the victims' families, with President Barack Obama's blessing, have launched an increased effort to lobby lawmakers personally and push a gun control bill through a bitterly divided Congress.
The proposal requires background checks for people buying guns at gun shows and online. Background checks currently apply only to transactions handled by the country's 55,000 licensed gun dealers. Private transactions, such as a sale of a gun between family members, would still be exempt.
The measure, proposed by Republican Sen. Pat Toomey and Democratic Sen. Joe Mancin, will take 60 votes to pass because some Republicans have pledged to use procedural maneuvers to block a final vote. That means more Republicans will have to come on board.
"It's an open question as to whether or not we have the votes. I think it's going to be close," Toomey said.
Even if the Senate approves the measure, it still faces an uphill climb in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where Speaker John Boehner has the power to decide whether to allow a vote on the bill.
Manchin said the proposal should dispel any misconceptions about infringing on the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees the right to bear arms.
"You can imagine for what, the last two or three months, that all you heard is they're going to take this away from you and that away," Manchin said Sunday on Fox News.
But Manchin said Alan Gottlieb, the chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, has decided to back the proposal after reading it. Gottlieb decided the bill "protects law-abiding gun owners like myself. And they are supporting it now. That is huge," Manchin said.
Gottlieb did not respond to a request Sunday to provide more details.
The compromise was also endorsed late Sunday by the Independent Firearms Owners Association, a pro-gun group that is smaller and more moderate than the National Rifle Association, the influential gun rights lobbying group.
The senators' agreement actually includes language expanding firearms rights by easing some restrictions on transporting guns across state lines, protecting sellers from lawsuits if buyers passed a check but later used a gun in a crime and letting gun dealers conduct business in states where they don't live.
The compromise, if successful, would be added to broader gun control legislation to strengthen laws against illegal gun trafficking and to increase slightly school security aid.
Other additions to the legislation also are expected to be debated this week, including a measure that would allow permits to carry concealed handguns that are issued by one state to be accepted nationwide as a de facto background check. That is expected to be opposed by Democratic lawmakers who represent states which have enacted their own tough gun control measures.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said Sunday that concealed weapons permits should be applied nationally. He also called for more prosecution of people who are trying to buy guns and fail a background check.
The Senate is also expected to consider, and reject, Democratic amendments to ban assault weapons and ammunition magazines carrying more than 10 rounds.
That reflects the power of the NRA, which has worked closely with some conservative Republicans to scale-back gun control legislation after the Connecticut shooting.
Although polls show overwhelming support for expanding background checks of gun purchasers, NRA leaders say it wouldn't make schools or streets safer but would lead to a registration of lawful gun owners whose weapons could be taxed or confiscated. Gun control supporters say expanded background checks would help keep criminals and the mentally ill from obtaining weapons.
Manchin and Toomey were on CNN and CBS.
Associated Press writer Dina Cappiello in Washington contributed to this report.