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Background checks part of gun-control talks

Senators from both parties tight-lipped on discussions

- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 17, 2013

Key Senators from both parties said Sunday that background checks on virtually all gun sales can win bipartisan support in the Senate, signaling progress on one of the key provisions of President Obama's gun control package.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, who is part of a bipartisan group of senators crafting a proposal on background checks, was tight-lipped on the internal machinations — often a sign that a breakthrough is close.

"I am not going to get into the details of our negotiating, publicly, but I can tell you we've both made progress and have a ways to go," the New York lawmaker said on CNN's "State of the Union."

Mr. Schumer is working with Sen. Joe Manchin, West Virginia Democrat, as well as Republican Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Mark Kirk of Illinois. He hinted there is more of an appetite for such a proposal than there this for a ban on so-called assault weapons, a measure being pushed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, and others.

"Whether it's part of our bill, we've been focusing on universal background checks where I think there's a greater chance to come to a bipartisan agreement," Mr. Schumer said.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, agreed that background checks can garner bipartisan backing, saying on NBC's "Meet the Press" that the four senators' package is something "that I think that most of us will be able to support."

Many senators who support the plan say the background checks would not be "universal" in the sense that carve-outs in the law should be made for transactions between family members or friends going to a shooting range, for example.

Mark Kelly, the husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was gravely wounded in a shooting at a constituent event in Tucson, Ariz., in January 2011, said the push for increased checks is vitally important, and would help keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.

"We are committed to making sure we have safer schools and safer communities, and the first thing we can do — the thing we can do right now — is to pass a criminal-background check," the retired Navy captain and astronaut said later on the program. "Shouldn't criminals and the mentally ill be subject to a background check?"

Despite the apparent momentum for that particular measure, however, there are still lingering concerns over other parts of the package Mr. Obama outlined last month.

Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican, said he was concerned with one of Mr. Obama's executive actions clarifying that doctors can ask their patients whether they have a gun in the house.

Mr. Barrasso, a medical doctor, said there is "no role" for the government to be telling doctors what they should or should not be asking their patients or families about.

"And I would really see a focus more if they worked on the mental health components with the pediatricians than what they have to or cannot do in talking to their patients," he said.

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