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‘Don’t count us out’: Senators see bipartisan support for gun background checks in wake of mass shootings


Murphy framed the gun debate as a chance for Republicans to prove that they can work with Democrats to pass legislation, avoiding the need to eliminate the Senate filibuster, as some Democrats have urged. If 60 senators join forces to approved expanded background checks, Murphy said, that could create an opening to cooperate on other matters.

“Once we convince Republicans that the sky doesn’t fall for you politically when you support a reasonable expansion of something like background checks, you can move on to other interventions,” Murphy said.

Murphy acknowledged that a gun bill approved by the House earlier this month could not survive in the Senate without substantial changes. The House bill would expand background checks to include private transactions between unlicensed individuals, and close a loophole that allows gun sales to go through after three business days even if the background check is incomplete. Those provisions lack support among even some moderate Democrats in the Senate, and could not garner the 60 votes needed to overcome a potential GOP filibuster.

By relaxing House-approved limitations on gun sales between family members, Murphy said, Democrats stand a good chance of winning Republican support.

“Eight years ago, [Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)] would have said he absolutely opposed expanding background checks,” Murphy said. “Today, he’s much more careful about his words because he knows there might be 10 members or more of his caucus who want to support a modified version of the House bill that still is a massive expansion of the number of sales that are … included in the background check system.”

Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), who also appeared on “Meet the Press” Sunday, agreed that Senate Republicans could support expanded background checks on commercial gun sales. Like many Republicans, however, he blamed the scourge of gun violence primarily on rampant criminality and mental illness, rather than the enormous number of weapons owned by Americans.

“I’m not a dangerous person,” Toomey said. “My focus has always been, make it more difficult for people that we all agree shouldn’t have firearms, make it more difficult for them to get firearms — that is violent criminals, the dangerously mentally ill. That’s what we should focus on.”

The renewed push for gun legislation is driven by two recent mass shootings: On March 16, a 21-year-old man allegedly opened fire inside three Asian-owned spas in Georgia, killing eight people. And on March 22, a 21-year-old man allegedly gunned down 10 people, including a police officer, inside a Boulder grocery store.

“I don’t need to wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take common-sense steps that will save lives in the future and to urge my colleagues in the House and Senate to act,” Biden said Tuesday.

On Friday, Biden said he is considering executive orders that would limit access to imported weapons and guns produced on 3-D printers.

“We’re looking at that right now,” Biden told reporters. “We’re looking at what kind of authority I have relative to imported weapons as well as whether or not I have the authority to — these new weapons that are being made by 3-D equipment that aren’t registered as guns at all. There may be some latitude there as well.”

The attack on a King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colo., is the latest in a state that has been disproportionately plagued by the gun violence epidemic. (Luis Velarde/The Washington Post)

The debate over gun control has become enmeshed in discussions among Democrats about whether to overhaul the Senate filibuster, which for years has been used by both parties to block or stall legislation. Some Democrats have pushed to eliminate the filibuster for voting-rights legislation, arguing that Congress must act to counter efforts in Republican-controlled state legislatures across the nation to limit access to the polls.

On Sunday, Murphy said Republican compromise on gun issues could prove the Senate can still function without drastic changes to the rules.

“Republicans have to argue, as a means of defending the current rules, that the Senate can still work under the 60-vote requirement,” Murphy said, adding: “Here’s their opportunity — an issue which has 90-percent support, which doesn’t require them to shift their position, their current position, to a herculean level. They can help us pass an expansion of background checks and prove to Democrats and the country that the Senate can work at a 60-vote threshold.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) challenged Democrats to pursue Biden’s call to enact a ban on semiautomatic rifles known as assault weapons.

“It won’t get 50 votes, much less 60,” Graham predicted on “Fox News Sunday,” offering an oft-mentioned personal rationale for permitting sales of AR-15s and other popular, assault-style firearms.

“I own an AR-15,” Graham said. “If there’s a natural disaster in South Carolina where the cops can’t protect my neighborhood, my house will be the last one that the gang will come to, because I can defend myself.”

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