Senate faces gun control debate with deep divisions

The U.S. Senate will take up gun control starting on Thursday, with a filibuster from Republicans the first order of business before weeks of debates over background checks and other measures begin.

March_on_Washington_for_Gun_Control_032Majority Leader Harry Reid had asked for a compromise on background checks from two senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, by Tuesday night.

Manchin and Toomey announced the bipartisan deal on Wednesday morning, which the National Rifle Association opposed immediately.

The approval of at least eight Republicans is crucial because Reid will need 60 votes in the Senate on Thursday  to have a successful cloture vote to avoid a filibuster.

So far, eight Republican senators say they will not vote to support a filibuster.

A group of Republican senators including Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Jim Inhofe have said they will filibuster “any legislation that infringe[s] on the American people’s constitutional right to bear arms.”

Toomey, a staunch conservative, became a last-minute player in the debate over background check measures that Democrats and Republicans could both support.

Manchin, a conservative Democrat, had been working with three other senators on a bipartisan background check agreement: Tom Coburn, Chuck Schumer, and Mark Kirk. Those talks fell apart when Coburn rejected record-keeping requirements he felt would lead to a national gun registry.

The two senators reached a compromise that would require background checks for gun show and online sales, and exempt any checks for private sales. Any transaction records would be kept in private hands. They also proposed a commission to study the causes of mass violence.

The NRA is also reportedly working on its own background check proposal.

Reid wanted to introduce a modified gun control bill this week for a full vote on the floor. Provisions about semi-automatic weapon and high-capacity magazine clips won’t be part of the bill (although senators will be allowed to propose them as amendments).

But the contentious issue of background checks is a key part of the legislation. Two other measures in the bill are expected to have an easier time in the Senate: more funds for mental health measures; and more funds for school safety.

Harsher laws on illegal “straw purchases” of guns may also have problems passing a Senate vote.

Another factor is the presence of moderate Democrats from conservative states in the process. There’s already been a backlash from some Democrats about New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s campaign to force the gun control issue.

“I do not need someone from New York City to tell me how to handle crime in our state. I know that we can go after and prosecute criminals without the need to infringe upon the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding North Dakotans,” said Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota in a statement.

At least six Democratic senators are on record opposing expanded gun control measures, and 21 Senate seats will be up for grabs in 2014.

And even if a gun control bill can pass through the Senate with background checks intact, it still needs to be approved by the Republican-controlled House.

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