One complicating factor is that the committee approved a placeholder bill on background checks while bipartisan negotiations continue on the issue between Democrats Charles E. Schumer of New York and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Republicans Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Mark S. Kirk of Illinois.
Moreover, senators who have introduced other gun bills that the Judiciary Committee did not consider are likely to offer them as amendments during the gun debate on the floor.
One such bill (S 480), aimed at clarifying the definition of mental illness used to deny firearms to those who should not have them, is co-sponsored by a bipartisan group including Democrats Mark Begich of Alaska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Republicans Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
On Wednesday, Graham said a broader group of bipartisan senators might come out in support of that legislation, potentially giving it momentum that most other gun-related proposals do not have. Still, Republicans who back the mental-health proposal may be unlikely to support it if it is attached to an underlying bill on assault weapons or expanded background checks.
During Thursday’s markup, Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., floated the idea of splitting Feinstein’s bill into two in order to boost the prospects for getting close to the 60-vote threshold needed to thwart a filibuster in the Senate.
The duo voiced support for holding a separate floor vote on the ban on large-capacity ammunition magazines contained in Feinstein’s bill. They suggested that the measure could garner sufficient support if untethered from the larger proposal to reinstate and expand the federal assault weapons ban that lapsed in 2004.
“I believe there may well be an effort to divide the assault weapon ban from the high-capacity magazine ban,” Blumenthal said. “I welcome that kind of split.”
While Senate leaders plot a path forward, advocacy groups are gearing up for a floor fight. In an email to supporters Wednesday night, Gun Owners of America said it would be urging senators to block any gun-related legislation from reaching the floor.
“The chief strategic objective is now to keep gun control votes from coming to the Senate floor by opposing the ‘motion to proceed’ to any bill which is going to be used as a vehicle for gun votes,” the group said.
The House also is waiting on Reid. Rep. Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., the co-sponsor of bipartisan gun trafficking legislation (HR 452), said he expects his chamber to wait until final Senate action on guns before considering his proposal and others.
“My own sense is that we’re waiting to see where the Senate goes,” Meehan said in an interview.