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Emotional pleas from former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and her husband, Mark Kelly, on Tuesday tugged at senators both for and against a bipartisan proposal on background checks for gun purchases. It’s not clear whether they turned any votes, however, as negotiators were still scrambling to clear a 60-vote hurdle necessary for passage.
Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said Democrats were two votes short of a filibuster-proof majority on an amendment that would end the gun show exemption and expand background checks to online sales.
Democratic aides tracking the bill said their magic number was a bit higher and said that members of both parties are still being lobbied. These same sources declined to give an exact whip count or list of names, given the delicate nature of the talks. An unofficial count by CQ Roll Call suggests that negotiators have 52 supporters, with eight senators still in play.
Kelly and Giffords appeared before Senate Democrats — including six still undecided on the measure — at the caucus’s weekly policy lunch. They later addressed a bipartisan crowd at the dedication of a room in the Capitol Visitor Center to slain Giffords staffer Gabriel Zimmerman, one of six people shot and killed in the 2011 Arizona mass shooting that rendered Giffords incapable of continuing her congressional service.
The poignant ceremony was marked by moments of awkwardness, as Kelly noted in his remarks the destructive power of high-capacity magazines that Congress cannot find enough votes to restrict.
Giffords’ friend, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., was also at the ceremony, a day after he announced he could not support the bipartisan background check agreement.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, who was one of three Republicans left on the board, announced he would not support the deal.
“I cannot support legislation that infringes upon the constitutional right to keep and bear arms,” he said of a compromise proposal authored by conservative Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., and right-wing stalwart Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa.
“I believe that this legislation could lead to the creation of a national gun registry and puts additional burdens on law-abiding citizens,” Heller said.
The language proposed by Manchin and Toomey in concert with two other senators explicitly prohibits the creation of a federal firearms registry “either directly or indirectly,” according to the bill text.
Sources tracking the talks said negotiators were trying to use changes to federal firearms licensing for remote, rural areas to woo senators from states such as Alaska and the Dakotas.