Yesterday, Harry Reid put out a statement declaring that the gun bill that he moves to the Senate floor will contain expanded background checks. “Any bill that passes the Senate must include background checks,” Reid said, laying down an unequivocal marker.
That’s good. Here’s more: Discussions with Senator Tom Coburn, who is seen as key to getting background checks passed, are back on again after previously falling apart, according to sources familiar with the talks. And Senate Democrats have made Coburn a new compromise offer.
Coburn today publicly reiterated his position that he supports expanding background checks to cover private sales but cannot accept any additional record keeping on those sales. However, behind the scenes discussions are continuing.
According to the sources, Senator Joe Manchin — who has an “A” rating from the NRA and is trying to win GOP support for the proposal along with Chuck Schumer — has privately offered Coburn a deal that looks something like this: All private sales would get background checks (except family members). All background checks done on private sales that are done through a commercial venue — say, via a gun clearinghouse Web site like ArmsList.com or at a gun show — would see their records kept by a federally licensed firearms dealer.
But — and this is the compromise part — all private sales not done through a commercial venue would get a background check but a record would not be kept. This would mean records wouldn’t be kept for acquaintance-to-acquaintance or friend-to-friend sales.
Despite Coburn’s continued opposition to record keeping, and despite suggestions that there is an impasse, talks remain ongoing, and compromise remains at least possible.
I don’t want to overstate the likelihood of a deal here. The opposition to record keeping could prove insurmountable. At that point, Dems and gun control advocates would face a tough choice: Either they stick with their insistence on records, and continue the search for another Republican or even bring the measure to the floor for a vote. Or they drop the record-keeping piece, win Coburn’s support, and pass the bill through the Senate.
The upside of this latter option is that such a measure (with no additional record keeping) would likely get broad support in the Senate — making passage by the House more likely. And an expanded background check with no additional record keeping would be better than the current background check system — because even without records, virtually all private sales would legally require background checks.
So in the end it may come down to the latter option.