McCarthy vows Senate will 'definitely' return to gun control this year

The Senate is on track to vote again this year on tougher gun laws, according to one of the most outspoken gun control advocates in the Congress.

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Although legislation central to President Obama's effort to reduce gun violence was blocked this month in the upper chamber, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) said this week that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has told House gun control advocates that the legislation will resurface before 2014.

"Reid had already told us [last week] that they were definitely going to bring it back up again," McCarthy said Friday. "We don't know when that time will be, but he said before the end of the year."

The tone marks a shift from earlier in the month, when the Senate shot down a series of proposals designed to combat gun violence, including legislation sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) that would have expanded mandatory background checks prior to gun purchases.

The defeat was a stinging setback for Obama – who has made tackling gun violence a top second-term priority in the wake of December's shooting massacre in Newtown, Conn. Even some of the most ardent gun control advocates were doubtful the issue would see another vote this year.

McCarthy, a member of the House Democrats' gun violence task force, said the group has been contacted by Senate gun control supporters, who are vowing to amend their bills, twist more arms and take another stab at a vote.

"We do know that a number of senators have been reaching out to our workforce group, and they were going ahead, they're going to tweak it, they're going to see, you know, if they can work with some of the other members who voted 'no,'" McCarthy said.

Under current law, federally licensed gun dealers are required to perform background checks on prospective buyers to screen out those prohibited from owning firearms. That list includes felons, fugitives, spousal abusers, illegal immigrants and the severely mental ill.

The same screening requirement does not apply, however, for private gun sellers, including those operating at gun shows and on the Internet – a loophole that allows most anyone in the country to buy firearms.

The Manchin-Toomey proposal would have expanded mandatory background checks to cover all sales conducted at gun shows and online.

Although the proposal prohibits the creation of a national gun registry, opponents of the bill, including the National Rifle Association (NRA), had warned it would do just that. Backed by the NRA, 45 senators opposed the measure – four more than needed to sustain a GOP filibuster and block the bill from getting a final vote.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) predicted this week that public outrage in the wake of the vote would cause some of those opponents to reconsider, lending fuel to the push for another round of votes.

"I think we will bring the bill back before the end of the year," Schumer said at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. "Lots of senators who thought it was safe to vote against it because of the intensity [of gun-rights lobbying] are not so sure anymore."

Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), one of just four Republicans to support the Manchin-Toomey bill, agreed.

"I think the issue will come back,” McCain said this week.

Still, with Manchin and Toomey altering their proposal to attract more conservative support, some Democratic gun control supporters are warning that they're not ready to rubber stamp just anything that might pass through the upper chamber.

Rep. Jackie Speier (Calif.), another member of the Democrats' gun violence task force, said there's talk of sweetening the Toomey-Manchin bill with a provision nationalizing the right of guns owners to carry concealed weapons in public – a deal-breaker, in her eyes.

"It's not something I would support," Speier said Friday.

House GOP leaders, meanwhile, have shown no interest in examining tougher gun laws in the wake of the Newtown tragedy, waiting instead to see if the Senate passes anything that would force them to react.

Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.), who has endorsed bipartisan legislation to fight gun trafficking, said Friday that there is "no momentum whatsoever" to consider gun control in the House without the Senate passing something first.

Rigell, one of just a handful of Republicans to back tougher gun laws post-Newtown, said he's been clobbered by gun rights groups – particularly the National Association for Gun Rights – for his bill. It's that fierce lobbying – combined with a fear of being branded an enemy of the Second Amendment – that's left Republicans reluctant to support his trafficking bill, he said.

"I've been absolutely vilified by [this] group," Rigell told The Hill Friday. "I would think most Republicans could agree on [my proposal], … but if they take any step whatsoever they can pretty much expect to be [attacked] by one group or another.

"I've never seen a group that has such a callous indifference to the truth as this one," he added. "This is what's wrong with America."

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