Report: Senate group working to expand background checks

A bipartisan group of senators is working on a proposal to strengthen background checks on gun purchasers.


The coalition of lawmakers includes Republican Sens. Tom Coburn (Okla.), and Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Democrats Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.), according to USA Today, which first reported the talks.

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The senators have not disclosed the reforms they are considering, but Coburn said the group is working to ensure that firearms remain out of the hands of those who “are a danger to themselves and other people,” according to the report.

“I believe the mentally ill should never be able to get a gun; I believe criminals should never be able to get a gun," Coburn told USA Today. "There's nothing wrong with updating what we're doing to try to make that more effective."

The efforts on background checks come as the gun-control debate moves to Capitol Hill, with the Senate Judiciary Committee slated to begin hearings Wednesday on stemming the nation’s gun-violence epidemic.

The panel is expected to hear from pro-gun lobby groups as well as former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who has been a strong proponent of more stringent gun laws after she was critically injured in 2011 in a mass shooting.

President Obama has called on lawmakers to institute universal background checks on all gun purchasers, alongside bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition sales. 

Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) earlier this month said he was open to examining measures that would improve the nation’s background check system and provide better mental healthcare to prevent gun violence.

The National Rifle Association (NRA), the nation’s pre-eminent gun-rights advocacy group, however, has strongly opposed universal background checks. 

“Background checks will never be ‘universal’ because criminals will never submit to them,” NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre will tell lawmakers in his Senate testimony, according to his prepared remarks. 

Measures such as the assault-weapons ban face a tough fight in Congress, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has declined to endorse a bill from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) reinstating the federal ban. But polls show the public supports efforts to expand the background check system and Democratic senators have expressed optimism such a bill could pass.

Schumer last week called universal background checks “the sweet spot” in terms of gun-violence-reduction measures. 

"I'd say this is the sweet spot in terms of actually making us safer and having a good chance of passing. This is it," Schumer said. "I think this is the best chance we have of getting something done, and I think you're going to have much broader support than you'd ever imagine."

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) last week also introduced a bill that would require background checks for purchasing gun ammunition. Currently, checks are required of firearm purchasers, but not ammunition buyers.