Sen. Harry Reid plans to introduce a bill that will include background checks… (Shawn Thew / European Pressphoto…)
WASHINGTON – The gun legislation set to hit the Senate floor next month will include universal background checks, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced Thursday.
Reid (D-Nev.) plans to introduce a bill Thursday evening that will include provisions on background checks, school safety and gun trafficking. He had said earlier this week that he hoped the full Senate would begin deliberation on the gun control package in early April.
The expansion of background checks has been the focal point of President Obama’s gun violence prevention initiative. A number of recent surveys found strong public support for requiring background checks for private sales, including those at gun shows and over the Internet.
But negotiations for a background check measure that would garner sufficient bipartisan support have lagged over disagreements on how sales records should be kept on such transfers. The Senate Judiciary Committee this month approved an alternative bill by Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), a more sweeping proposal that would be unlikely to attract the 60 votes necessary to avoid a filibuster.
Gun safety advocates were alarmed this week when Reid suggested that he would not include background checks in the broader gun legislation if its success on the floor was uncertain.
On Thursday, however, Reid said Schumer’s proposal would be part of the bill, with hopes that a bipartisan compromise could be substituted if a deal is reached.
“I hope negotiations will continue over the upcoming break to reach a bipartisan compromise on background checks, and I am hopeful that they will succeed,” Reid said in the statement. “If a compromise is reached, I am open to including it in the base bill. But I want to be clear: In order to be effective, any bill that passes the Senate must include background checks.”
Reid had demonstrated his willingness to ax provisions from the bill if he believed they were unlikely to succeed. An assault weapons ban championed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) was not included in the bill because it was unlikely to receive more than 40 votes, Reid said Tuesday. The decision elicited outrage from advocacy groups who had rallied around Feinstein’s effort.
Rick Jacobs, chairman of the California-based Courage Campaign, said Tuesday that Reid’s decision to exclude the assault weapons ban from the larger bill was “unfortunate.”
“Why do we negotiate with ourselves? Why are we doing that?” he asked. “Why not put it in the bill and be strong about it and at least force a big conversation about it?”
On Thursday, Reid emphasized that the proposals to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines had not disappeared; he said they could be offered as amendments to the bill.
“The bill I advance tonight will serve as the basis for opening debate,” he said. “Once debate begins, I will ensure that a ban on assault weapons, limits to high-capacity magazines, and mental health provisions receive votes, along with other amendments. In his State of the Union address, President Obama called for all of these provisions to receive votes, and I will ensure that they do.”