Pro-gun reform pressure keeps background check bill on the table


Gun control advocates were dealt a serious blow when the Senate last month rejected a bill to expand background checks on gun purchases. The bill is now on hold indefinitely in the Senate, but the public and private pressure that advocates are putting on lawmakers has been strong enough to keep the issue simmering.

Groups like Mayors Against Illegal Guns and individual activists have put some of the lawmakers who voted against the bill, like Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., on defense. They're appealing personally, meanwhile, to others like Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark. The effort has prompted some to say they're open to voting for some kind of revised version of the background check bill.

"I'm open to anything, but I'm representing the people of Montana," Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., one of the four Democrat who voted against the measure, said Tuesday. "I'll put it through a Montana filter, whatever anybody might come up with."

The authors of the legislation, Sens. Joe Manchin, D-Mont., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., are working on revisions to their amendment in an effort to get the five extra votes needed to pass the bill. Once it has the support it needs, they plan to bring it back to the Senate floor, following the Senate's work on immigration.

When asked about the timeline for considering the bill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Tuesday, "I don't exactly when it's gonna come back on the Senate floor." Citing not only immigration reform but also the farm bill, an energy bill and other issues, Reid added, "We have other things to do."

Still, Reid sounded optimistic about the efforts. "Time is on our side, the American people on our side, and we're gonna get to that as soon as we have enough votes to do that," he said.

A Senate Democratic aide told CBS News that the process is going "as good as supporters of the bill could have hoped." Manchin and Toomey may have to make some changes to the legislation if only to give senators who voted against it last month a reason to change their vote, the aide said.

"What's promising about it is the fact that clearly Republicans who voted against it are feeling a lot of pressure and don't want this to be the way it ends," the aide said. "There are member-to-member conversations going on... I think there is a desire to get to yes from a lot of people, probably enough to get to the 60."

Manchin said Tuesday on "CBS This Morning" that the bill could pass with some "adjustments." On Wednesday, he told CBS News he hopes to bring the bill back to the Senate floor before Congress leaves for its August break.

"I don't know how you make it any more common-sense," Manchin said, but added that some areas of the legislation could be redefined, such as what counts as an Internet transaction.

That's one area that needs to change if Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., will ever support the effort.

"For me the biggest thing, the number one thing is commercial sales is defined far too broadly," Flake said Tuesday. "Virtually anything that touches the internet, text messages, any posting is a commercial sale, that's far, far too broad."

However, Flake added there are "a number of things" that need to change. "I'm not reconsidering my position," he said. "I think they ought to go back to the drawing board."

He added, "I want to strengthen our background check system, but whether they can do that with the Toomey-Manchin proposal, I don't know."

Ayotte similarly defended her vote in an op-ed in the Concord Monitor Tuesday, insisting, "I support effective background checks and in fact voted recently to improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS)."

The senator argued Congress should be focused on fixing the current system rather than "expanding a flawed system." She decried the ads running against her, arguing that "misleading television and radio ads are counterproductive and only help to poison this important discussion."

Last month, Americans for Responsible Solutions ran radio ads attacking Ayotte's vote, while Mayors Against Illegal Guns is currently airing an ad against her in Boston and Manchester. On top of that, Ayotte was confronted at a town hall event last week by , the daughter of Sandy Hook Elementary School's slain principal, who asked her "why the burden of my mother being gunned down in the hall of her elementary school isn't as important as" the "burden to owners of gun stores."

John Feinblatt, chairman of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, dismissed Ayotte's op-ed.

"Despite the senator's claim that the current background check system doesn't work, it has blocked over two million dangerous people from buying guns," he said in a statement to CBS. "Rather than weakening current law and siding with the gun lobby, Senator Ayotte should stand with the 89 percent of people in the Granite State who want to close loopholes to make sure guns don't get into the hands of criminals and the dangerously mentally ill."

Neil Heslin, whose son Jesse McCord Lewis was killed in Sandy Hook shooting, planned on confronting Pryor about his vote of opposition at a town hall as well. However, he instead sat down for a private meeting with the senator this week.

Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., similarly sat down with a handful of gun control advocates, the Washington Post reported, and his spokesman told the Post he could possibly reconsider his vote if the Manchin-Toomey bill were "significantly reworked."

  • John Nolen