Falling Short

04.17.13

Background Checks Face Defeat

Supporters concede the bipartisan push to tighten rules on gun purchases has faltered. Howard Kurtz on why the post-Newtown legislation fell short.

Despite the backing of longtime NRA backer Harry Reid and conservative Republican Pat Toomey, the Senate has failed to muster enough support to pass a compromise measure tightening background checks for gun purchases.

As the echoes of the Newtown massacre have faded, and with some conservative Democrats wavering, it was clear on Wednesday that the amendment backed by the White House would fall at least five votes short of passage, and probably more.

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, another NRA champion who broke ranks to support background checks with Pennsylvania’s Toomey, is conceding they don’t have the votes. The duo had hoped to round up 60 votes to defeat any GOP delaying tactics, but now some risk-averse Democrats may vote against the measure because it appears doomed to defeat. Two potential supporters—Nevada's Dean Heller and Alaska's Lisa Murkowski—now say they will vote no.

The amendment to extend federal background checks to online buyers and those at gun shows was the one piece of President Obama’s ambitious legislation that seemed to have a shot at passage. Supporters had hoped that a 60-vote margin would provide enough momentum to give the measure a fighting chance in the Republican-controlled House.

Other elements of Obama’s package, such as a ban on assault weapons, have no shot at passage in the current climate. Reid, the Senate majority leader, abandoned the NRA on Wednesday by saying he would support the ban.

“I’ll vote for the ban because maintaining the law and order is more important than satisfying conspiracy theorists who believe in black helicopters and false flags,” Reid said. “I’ll vote for the ban because saving the lives of police officers, young and old, and innocent civilians, young and old, is more important than preventing imagined tyranny.”

The apparent failure of the Manchin-Toomey compromise follows an emotional lobbying campaign led by Obama and Vice President Joe Biden; former congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was badly wounded in a mass shooting in 2011; and family members of Newtown victims who have swarmed the Capitol in recent days.

Video screenshot

There was optimism last week when Senators Manchin and Toomey unveiled their bi-partisan compromise, but the plan has since fallen through.