Schumer: Universal background checks Dems' top priority

Schumer: Universal background checks Dems' top priority
© Greg Nash

Senate Democrats are zeroing in on a push to require universal background checks for gun purchases following last week's shooting at a Florida high school.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerBarr to testify before House Judiciary panel Graham won't call Barr to testify over Roger Stone sentencing recommendation Roger Stone witness alleges Trump targeted prosecutors in 'vile smear job' MORE (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday that universal background checks would be the party's "No. 1 priority."

"Our No. 1 priority is going to be universal background checks, which is supported by about 80 percent of the American people, and closing the gun show loophole and all the other ways that people get around the background checks," he told reporters.

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Lawmakers have turned their focus to the background check system after last week's shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., where 17 people were killed.

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinThe Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in The Hill's Morning Report - Sanders surge triggers Dem angst As many as eight GOP senators expected to vote to curb Trump's power to attack Iran MORE (D-Ill.) said Congress "must act by closing loopholes in gun laws and passing universal background checks" while Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) added that President TrumpDonald John TrumpRussian sanctions will boomerang States, cities rethink tax incentives after Amazon HQ2 backlash A Presidents Day perspective on the nature of a free press MORE needs to "support universal background checks, bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines."

Trump tweeted Tuesday evening that "we must now focus on strengthening Background Checks." And the White House said this week the president supports a bill by Sens. John CornynJohn CornynSenate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony Booker, Cornyn introduce bill to fund school nutrition programs Three Senate primaries to watch on Super Tuesday MORE (R-Texas) and Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyLawmakers wary as US on cusp of initial deal with Taliban Democratic senators ask FDA to ban device used to shock disabled students Senators to meet with Zelensky after impeachment trial MORE (D-Conn.) aimed at strengthening the National Instant Background Check System (NICS).

But Schumer said Wednesday that was a "small step" and "not close to enough."

"In terms of getting something real done, the universal background check is at the, sort of, nexus of [having] a chance of actually becoming law, particularly if the president would support it, and at the same time doing a whole lot of good," he said.

The House passed its version of the Cornyn-Murphy bill last year, but attached it to legislation allowing people to use permits for carrying concealed handguns across state lines.

But linking the two issues is largely considered a nonstarter in the Senate, where Republicans will need the support of at least nine Democrats to get any bill through the chamber.

The Cornyn-Murphy bill does not include the concealed carry reciprocity provision. Schumer said Wednesday that it would be a "very, very bad idea" to try to merge the two proposals into one bill.

"That would be a repeat of what they tried to do, what the administration tried to do, on immigration. Attach something good ... to something so totally unacceptable," he said.