WASHINGTON - Two key senators have reached a bipartisan deal on expanding background checks to more gun buyers, a Senate aide and lobbyist said today, an agreement that could build support for President Barack Obama's drive to curb firearms violence in the wake of the elementary school shootings in Connecticut.
Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., planned to announce their compromise later today. Subjecting more firearms purchases to federal background checks has been the chief goal of Obama and gun control supporters, who promote the system as a way to prevent criminals and other potentially dangerous people from getting the weapons.
Meanwhile, the Senate is ready for an opening vote on restricting guns as Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., set a roll call for Thursday on starting consideration of the firearms legislation. The background check deal makes it even likelier that Democrats will win enough Republican support to thwart an effort by conservatives to block consideration from even starting.
Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., right, and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., left, speak to reporters on Tuesday.
The background check deal would expand the system to cover all commercial sales, such as at gun shows and online. Records of the transactions would have to be kept by licensed gun dealers, the same system used currently.
Private transactions that are not for profit, such as those between relatives, would be exempt from background checks.
Currently, background checks are required only for sales through licensed gun dealers.
The aide and lobbyist spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private talks.
The administration was continuing its effort to pressure Congress on gun control on Wednesday as first lady Michelle Obama planned to visit a Chicago high school where authorities say 29 current or former students have been shot in the past year. Eight of them died.
The background check deal and the Senate's scheduled threshold vote on the gun bill were a boost for advocates battling for firearms restrictions in the wake of December's shootings that killed 20 first-graders and six staffers at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
"I hope Republicans will stop trying to shut down debate and start engaging in the tough issues we were sent to Washington to tackle," Reid said.
Manchin and Toomey are among their parties' most conservative members and a deal could make it easier for some hesitant senators to support the background check measure, at least for now.
Even so, the ultimate fate of gun legislation remains unclear, clouded by opposition from many Republicans and moderate Democrats in the Democratic-led Senate and the Republican-run House. Many critics say the proposal would violate the Second Amendment right to bear arms and burden law-abiding gun owners.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who led an earlier unsuccessful effort to strike a bipartisan background check deal, is backing the compromise after changes were made from an initial version of the deal between Manchin and Toomey, according to a Senate aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe details of the talks.