Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Rocky Road Ahead for Gun Safety?

At his town hall meeting in Henderson last month, Rep. Joe Heck (R-Henderson) announced his support for some gun safety measures, like universal background checks. That heartened gun safety advocates, even as he restated his opposition to the Assault Weapons Ban. Hey, at least Heck was agreeing to something. So this means something can finally pass?

Perhaps not. Just minutes ago, Senate talks on a possible bipartisan backed background checks bill fell apart.

Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) said Wednesday that they cannot support a universal background check bill drafted by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) but promised in a statement to continue with bipartisan talks on the issue. The statement comes as talks between Schumer and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) fell apart. Schumer intends to proceed with his own version of the bill that excludes input from Kirk and Manchin.

“We are committed to continuing to work in a bipartisan effort with Senators Schumer, Coburn and others in order to find a commonsense solution for enhanced background checks, however, Senator Schumer's current proposal is one we cannot support as it stands today," Kirk and Manchin said in the statement. “While the bill Senator Schumer introduced today doesn’t meet this standard, we will continue to work with Senator Schumer, Senator Coburn and other colleagues to find a commonsense compromise."

So why did this happen? Why of course, the gun lobby objected! So now, gun safety advocates in the Senate are scrambling to plot a new path forward.

Originally, the plan by the group —which includes Schumer, and Senators Joe Manchin and Mark Kirk —was to submit a background check bill to the Judiciary Committee for mark-up that contained a number of concessions designed to win the support of Coburn, a staunch “gun rights” advocate whose backing would make it easier to get more Republicans to buck the NRA and support it. Those concessions modified a tougher bill Schumer had originally introduced in 2011, in order to cater to concerns held by Coburn and Manchin. The latter Senator supports the resulting compromise. But Coburn’s objections now appear impossible to overcome for now, leading Senators to revise this strategy. Instead, Dems will introduce the original, tougher Schumer bill, while Senators search for more Republican support for the compromise.

“Senator Schumer is not prepared to negotiate away the record-keeping requirement in its entirety, lest it make the law unenforceable,” the source tells me. Schumer will now join Senators Kirk and Manchin in directly wooing other Republicans. These Senators have not given up entirely on winning over Coburn, and are only introducing the tougher provision as a kind of placeholder —they are willing to restore the concessions they’ve made thus far if necessary to win over Coburn or other Republicans.

Though the lack of Coburn’s support certainly makes it more difficult to get the expanded background check passed, Dems remain optimistic that a handful of other Republican Senators can we won over. After all, this provision has overwhelming public support —including among Republicans. What’s more, the fact that Coburn came so close to supporting the bill is being taken as a sign of optimism —he has an “A” rating from the NRA, yet even he was willing to support the basic policy goal of a near-universal background check. That has left Dems hopeful that more moderate Republicans will be gettable. Stay tuned.

Apparently, Manchin & Kirk have signaled their willingness to continue negotiations on some sort of background checks bill, even with Coburn gone for good. Still, they're refusing to support the bill Schumer has already authored and plans to (re)introduce. And this is just the background checks legislation that 89% of Americans support!

This just highlights the challenges that lie ahead for any kind of gun safety reform in Congress. And these challenges are set to hit the doors of Joe Heck's and Senator Dean Heller's respective offices very soon. Both have expressed support for some gun safety measures in the abstract. They've yet to say something on any specific bills, such as the background checks bill that Chuck Schumer wants.

Meanwhile, epic gun violence continues here in Nevada and across the nation. What (else) will it take for Congress to finally act?

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