The Washington Post

As talks on gun background checks falter, Sen. Schumer says he’ll move ahead

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he will reintroduce a proposal mandating background checks on all gun sales, private or commercial. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Continued disagreements over whether to keep records of private gun sales prompted Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) to move ahead Wednesday without the support of the Democrats and Republicans he’s been meeting with for weeks in hopes of striking a deal to expand the national background check system, with limited exceptions.

Schumer said he will reintroduce a proposal mandating background checks on all gun sales, private or commercial, on Thursday at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, where senators will begin debating and voting on legislation put forward in the months since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

For weeks, Schumer has been locked in negotiations over a new background check bill with Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.). Early on, Schumer agreed to change his original proposal to permit limited exceptions for the transfer of firearms between family members and close friends. But aides familiar with the talks said Schumer and Coburn repeatedly locked horns over whether to keep records of private gun sales, a provision that Democrats believe is necessary to fully enforce any new background check law.

Coburn and other gun rights advocates think that mandating recordkeeping could place an undue burden on gun owners or be perceived as the beginning of a national gun registry.

One Schumer aide credited Coburn for negotiating “in complete and utter good faith” but added that “there is an honest difference of opinion” over the issue of recordkeeping. “As much as we wish to earn Senator Coburn’s support, Senator Schumer is not prepared to negotiate away the recordkeeping requirement in its entirety, lest it make the law unenforceable,” said the aide, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the talks and so spoke on the condition of anonymity.

How the NRA exerts influence over Congress

John Hart, a spokesman for Coburn, said Wednesday that the senator “is still hopeful they can reach an agreement.”

Schumer, Manchin and Kirk now plan to seek other potential GOP co-sponsors and will reintroduce their bipartisan plan if they gather enough Republican support, aides said.

Manchin told reporters Wednesday that Schumer’s decision was based on the need to formally file some kind of background check bill in time for the Judiciary Committee hearing.

Thursday “is not the drop-dead date for us,” Manchin said. “But we won’t have our bill ready for tomorrow.”

Manchin said he would not support Schumer’s original bill “in any way, shape or form, but I’m very appreciative and encouraged that he’s been working very constructively with us.”

“We’re continuing to bring people together and I think moving in such a positive way,” he continued, later adding, “I don’t think anyone’s opposed to us making every effort to keep guns out of people’s hands who shouldn’t have them, which is basically criminals and people with mental illness who’ve been adjudicated.”

A January Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that nearly nine in 10 Americans (88 percent) support requiring background checks for sales at gun shows. Seven in 10 (71 percent) endorsed the creation of a federal database to track all firearm sales, with 54 percent supporting the idea “strongly.” More than half of respondents in gun-owning households supported each measure.

An advocacy group’s poll set for release Thursday found similar results in some of the nation’s most conservative states and congressional districts. Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a coalition of more than 900 mayors co-chaired by New York’s Michael R. Bloomberg (I) that pushes for stricter gun laws, commissioned the poll.

The survey, conducted Jan. 25 to Feb. 22 by pollster Douglas E. Schoen, found broad support in 41 congressional districts and 21 states — including Arizona, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Wisconsin — for criminal checks for all gun sales. Support for background checks averaged 89 percent in the districts surveyed and 86 percent in the statewide polls.

Scott Clement contributed to this report.

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Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.
Sari Horwitz covers the Justice Department and criminal justice issues nationwide for The Washington Post, where she has been a reporter for 30 years.

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