Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) speaks with reporters following… (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated…)
Four months after 20 children were gunned down in Newtown, Conn., families of the dead are pleading with members of Congress to make it harder for criminals and the mentally disturbed to obtain firearms. That will happen only if a sufficient number of Republicans are willing to abandon their subservience to the National Rife Assn. and approve common-sense legislation supported by a majority of Americans.
With a Senate vote likely this week on gun legislation proposed by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), there are signs that some Republicans in that chamber may be willing to strengthen background checks for gun purchases. Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) reportedly has been conferring with West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III, a moderate Democrat and NRA member, about compromise legislation that would require background checks for all purchases except those between close family members and by some hunters. Manchin reportedly also has been in touch with the NRA. One scenario being discussed is that the NRA, while continuing to oppose expansion of background checks, wouldn't hold a vote for such a proposal against a member of Congress as part of its system for "scoring" lawmakers.
An expansion of background checks along those lines would fall depressingly short of the ambitious agenda proposed by President Obama, which includes a ban on assault weapons and restrictions on the size of ammunition magazines. But it would be an improvement over current law because it would mean the vast majority of firearms sales, including those by unlicensed sellers at gun shows, would be covered by the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System. That system matches a prospective buyer's name against the names of convicted criminals, those indicted for crimes, fugitives from justice, illegal immigrants, people dishonorably discharged from the armed services and those who have been "adjudicated mental defective or involuntarily committed to a mental institution."
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It's not clear, however, whether there will be any vote at all on gun legislation. Several Republican senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have indicated that they will vote to oppose proceeding with the Reid bill, while other Republicans say they won't join in the filibuster. Reid has scheduled a cloture vote for as early as Thursday on whether to proceed.
Even Republicans who might vote against gun legislation should allow this debate to continue. Disposing of this legislation without a vote would be an insult to the children of Newtown and other victims of gun violence.