Assault Weapons Ban Dead In Senate, Gun Background Checks In Critical Condition

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The assault weapons ban is all but dead, and mandatory background checks are touch and go. Three months after the Newtown shooting, prospects of Congress passing a broad gun control package have dimmed considerably.

Tuesday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told reporters he hopes to move gun legislation to a vote “as soon after Easter” as he can, with the aim of pursuing mandatory background checks as well as reforms to laws involving gun trafficking, access to mental health and safety in schools.

“We cannot have votes on everything unless I get something on the floor. It’s a legislative impossibility,” he said. “I’m not going to try to put something on the floor that won’t succeed; I want something that will succeed. I think the worst of all worlds would be to bring something to the floor and it dies there.”While the looming failure of an assault weapons ban has been obvious for some time, there’s been no apparent progress on mandatory background checks since it lost steam earlier this month, when Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) quit bipartisan talks with Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL), Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Joe Manchin (D-WV). Democratic leaders are wary of bringing such a proposal up for a vote unless more Republicans sign on.

When TPM asked Reid if background checks would be in the final bill, he was circumspect.

“I am working to put something together that I can get 60 votes to put a bill on the floor,” he said. “I’m going to do everything I can to do that. There are a couple of different background check proposals floating around. Manchin and Kirk are working on one. Schumer’s working on one. I don’t know who else is working on a bill.”

Manchin says he’s courting Republican support. But it’s hard to find. Given the popularity of background checks, Republican senators don’t want to go on record opposing the idea and would seemingly rather let it die by default.

Asked separately Tuesday if they would consider supporting gun background checks, Sens. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and John McCain (R-AZ) each dodged.

“I don’t know — I haven’t seen it,” McCain said.

Graham said he doubts the idea would pass. “I don’t know,” he said. “If Coburn and Schumer don’t reach a deal, probably not.” Coburn’s spokesman didn’t immediately comment.

Reid praised Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) for her work on a bill banning assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, but said that it had to be dropped because, “using the most optimistic numbers, [it] has less than 40 votes” — an admission that many Democrats oppose it. Feinstein said she regrets his decision but tried her best.

“There’s no way a ban on guns is going to get to the president,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) told TPM he sees a “low probability” of any gun legislation passing.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.
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