Reid needs at least 60 votes in his pocket — or ideally, many more — to force the House’s hand on the gun background check issue.
But the talks have been stalled around one issue for weeks: whether private sellers should be required to keep a record of their gun sales. Republicans, including chief negotiator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, have said that mandating such receipts would be tantamount to creating a national gun registry, while Democrats have said they are just trying to treat private sales like public ones.
As work in the Senate continues behind the scenes for longer than many advocates of strengthening gun control laws might like, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney outlined the White House’s next lobbying effort. That will include a Monday trip by Obama to Connecticut, the state where the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings happened, and a visit by first lady Michelle Obama to Chicago on Wednesday.
Despite the push from the White House, congressional sources on both sides said it appeared there was little room for compromise on the issue of record keeping. Democrats spent much of the recess searching for new GOP partners. They have already put out feelers with Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, and Politico on Friday reported that Democrats were trying to work with Republican Sen. Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania. Democratic Sens. Charles E. Schumer of New York and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia have been leading the talks, but Reid has also been involved.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell last week said it was “unclear” whether the Senate would pass any legislation expanding background checks.
“The challenge here is, does that mean that if you sell a shotgun to your neighbor, you have to figure out a way to do a background check?” the Kentucky Republican told WGTK radio in Louisville. Background checks for such sales would be part of what the Democrats seek to accomplish in creating a universal system. Under one proposal, an individual seeking to buy a firearm could present some kind of certificate to a prospective seller to demonstrate that they do not have a criminal record or another circumstance that would prohibit them from owning firearms. Coburn has indicated he could support such a proposal if it is not tied to record-keeping requirements.
“I think the key here is the people with mental — serious mental disabilities committing crimes,” McConnell said. “But I think myself and most of ... my Republican members in the Senate are open to doing anything we can to try to keep the weapons out of the hands of people who are suffering with serious mental disabilities.”
The package that Reid is setting up for floor consideration does not contain mental health provisions, but it could come up as an amendment.