With chances iffy for winning a broad expansion of background checks in the Senate this week, gun control advocates face a tough choice: Hold out for a wide-ranging bill and risk killing it altogether, or find the stomach for a watered-down approach that ensures at least something passes.
Many of the groups had hoped the bill, which hit the Senate floor Monday, would expand background checks to virtually all firearms sales. But a compromise drawn up by two gun rights supporters and blessed by Democratic leaders is slimmer, expanding checks to sales at gun shows and on the Internet, but not to all private transactions.
For some groups, that concession already goes too far. Others say they can accept such a deal but can’t give up any more ground.
“This is where we will hold the line,” the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence said in a statement. “Attempts by the gun lobby and their Republican allies in Congress to further water down gun violence prevention will be met with determined resistance by our coalition and its supporters in the day ahead.”
With bans on semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines apparently doomed to defeat, the chief fight has been over background checks. The deal from Sens. Patrick J. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican, and Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, is a step back from language in the broader bill from Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, which would have expanded checks to virtually all private sales.
Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican who was originally part of the negotiations, said the Toomey-Manchin compromise goes too far. He said he would offer a proposal this week that would allow potential firearms transferees to run self-checks through online portals and subsequently be granted temporary 30-day permits that could be used for any private gun transfers.
Ladd Everitt, a spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, said it was doubtful that his group could accept the Coburn proposal even if the Toomey-Manchin plan fails to win the 60 votes needed to overcome any filibuster that could doom the bill.
Senators who support gun control are likely to face the same choice. For now, they are hoping for full victory rather than settling for Mr. Coburn’s plan.
Mr. Manchin complimented Mr. Coburn for his input and said Monday “there’s maybe going to be a day” to visit Mr. Coburn’s proposal, but that the one he is co-sponsoring addresses the Oklahoman’s concerns about convenience.
“It was supposed to be to help the convenience of rural America, rural Oklahoma, rural West Virginia of not having to go to” a federally licensed dealer, he said. “Well, guess what? In our bill, no personal transactions have to be done, so a portal’s not needed because you don’t need to do the background check unless you go to the gun show. The gun store’s current law, or if you buy on the Internet commercial sales.”
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat, and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, said they hadn’t seen Mr. Coburn’s proposal.
“But I am going to support the strongest bills that we can get through here,” Mr. Cardin said.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the advocacy group co-chaired by New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, has begun a push for the Toomey-Manchin amendment, targeting a handful of senators from both parties with ad campaigns. It pulled ads targeting Mr. Toomey after he helped introduce the legislation.
“Our bipartisan coalition of more than 900 mayors strongly supports this bill and looks forward to working with other leaders, including Senators Schumer and Kirk who have worked tirelessly on this issue, to do all we can to ensure its passage,” Mr. Bloomberg said recently.
Conversely, the liberal advocacy group MoveOn.Org launched an ad campaign this week targeting six Senate Democrats and prodding them to support background check legislation as well as bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Garlin Gilchrist II, the group’s national campaign director, said in a statement that “some members of Congress are more worried about gun manufacturers’ profits than the safety of our children and our communities.”
“We’re confidently pushing forward on all these,” he told The Washington Times in a later interview. “If politics is the art of the possible, we’ve seen many things we didn’t think were possible since Newtown. The Manchin-Toomey compromise is a great start. We actually want it strengthened even further.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney applauded Mr. Manchin and Mr. Toomey for forging an agreement “that comes together around common-sense background checks that will make it harder for dangerous people to get their hands on a gun.”
He also said Monday that it wasn’t an administration bill and there are aspects that the White House “might prefer to be stronger.” Indeed, Mr. Obama has pushed for the weapons and magazine bans, as well as much broader language on background checks.
“The fact is, is that while this is not the bill as we would have written it word for word, it does represent a significant improvement on our background check system,” Mr. Carney said.