A bipartisan group of lawmakers reached a deal Wednesday to expand background checks to guns purchased on the Internet or at trade shows, clearing the way for the Senate to begin debating a new gun control bill this week.
The deal, struck by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III and Republican Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, won a stamp of approval from President Obama and gave the broader gun bill a needed boost — though the legislation still faces high hurdles in the Senate, to say nothing of the GOP-controlled House.
Under the terms of the agreement, private transactions between family members and friends would be exempt from checks. And the legislation explicitly prohibits a national registry of gun owners.
"The common ground rests on a simple proposition, and that is that criminals and the dangerously mentally ill shouldn't have guns," said Mr. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican. "I don't know anyone who disagrees with that premise, from either political party or whatever folks' views might be on broader gun rights issues."
But Mr. Toomey said even if the Senate accepts his plan, he's not sure he'll be able to vote for the final bill, which will likely include new school safety funding and controls on gun trafficking.
Senators are also expected to vote on amendments to ban military-style semiautomatic weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines — though neither of them appears likely to earn the 60 votes needed to pass.
The Senate will hold its first vote Thursday on whether to even bring the debate to the chamber floor. That vote, too, will require the support of 60 senators, but that's looking increasingly likely after nearly a dozen Republicans have said they'll join with Democrats to head off a filibuster.
Mr. Obama, who has placed gun control at the top of his domestic agenda since December's school shooting rampage in Newtown, Conn., applauded the two senators Wednesday, but still reminded lawmakers of the remaining hurdles.
"The Senate must overcome obstruction by defeating a threatened filibuster, and allow a vote on this and other commonsense reforms," Mr. Obama said in a statement. "Any bill still has to clear the House."
Also Wednesday, Sens. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, and Susan M. Collins, Maine Republican, announced they had reached a deal with the National Rifle Association on the firearms trafficking provisions. The new language clarifies that people can buy firearms from licensed dealers to give as gifts or contest prizes.
With prospects dimming for weapons and magazine bans, gun control advocates have put all their efforts into expanding background checks. Under current law, checks are only required on guns sold by federally licensed dealers.
Gun rights supporters worry that expanding background checks to private transactions will be too burdensome for law-abiding gun owners.
Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican who had been trying to negotiate a compromise, said the Toomey-Manchin proposal puts too much emphasis on record-keeping, while those wanting to sell their guns will just avoid gun shows.
House Speaker John A. Boehner said Wednesday the House will look at any bill the Senate sends over — but he also put the background check amendment in perspective.
"It's one thing for two members to come to some agreement," Mr. Boehner said. "That doesn't substitute the will for the other 98 members."
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