Skip to main content

Senator still trying to find votes for background checks

By Dana Bash and Dan Merica, CNN
May 4, 2013 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Co-author of expanded background checks proposal to meet with senators next week
  • Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, is seeing if he can change legislation to get more votes
  • Gun-control activists have hounded some senators over their vote against the measure

Washington (CNN) -- Behind-the-scenes dealing over reviving stalled gun control legislation will get a push next week when Sen. Joe Manchin, a strong proponent of expanding background checks, plans to meet individually with lawmakers, a Senate source tells CNN.

The key question the conservative West Virginia Democrat wants answered is whether a "minimal change" to a compromise background check proposal that he co-authored but which failed to gain enough support in a vote last month would entice more senators to support it, the source said.

Since the proposal he negotiated with Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania faltered, senators who voted against it have been hounded in their states during the current recess by outside proponents of expanding background checks.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte has been the most high-profile target of such confrontations. The New Hampshire Republican was questioned at an event by Erica Lafferty, the daughter of Dawn Hochsprung, a school principal slain in the Newtown massacre last December.

Giffords battles for NRA member votes
Newtown victim's daughter faces Ayotte
Gun vote follows senators home
Newtown victim's daughter not giving up

Lafferty asked "why the burden of my mother being gunned down in the halls of her elementary school isn't as important" as inconveniencing gun sellers.

Lafferty was sent to Ayotte's event by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, one of several gun control groups using the current congressional recess to take the gun control message out of Washington. And she followed that up with interviews with TV networks.

The source said this sort of pressure from outside groups is a key to any hopes of swaying senators who may be open to supporting a modified proposal.

In addition to confronting senators in person, groups have run ads against lawmakers who voted against the Toomey-Manchin compromise and have supported senators who supported it.

The husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was seriously wounded in a 2011 shooting in Arizona, wrote an opinion piece in the Houston Chronicle challenging the National Rifle Association over its opposition to expanded background checks.

"What most members of the NRA want from the organization and what the leadership is actually doing are not the same," Mark Kelly wrote.

Thousands of NRA members are gathered in Houston this weekend for its annual convention.

According to the Senate source, the pressure tactics appear to be working with polls showing most Americans favoring some sort of new gun restrictions.

The signal Manchin has been getting from senators getting hammered at home, according to the source, is that they need to save face politically and any deal would hinge on whether they can argue that they extracted something new in the language.

"We have to figure out some sort of new sentence, one change to it so they can go back and say 'I fought to change this,'" said the source.

At this point, however, it is not clear what the change would be.

In order to pass any legislation around the issue, gun control advocates need find 60 votes in the Senate. Fifty-four senators backed the Mancin-Toomey amendment while 46 opposed it. Majority Leader Harry Reid supported it but only voted 'no' in the end on procedural grounds to keep open the possibility of revisiting it later.

The Senate source says Manchin's prime targets to flip are all Republicans and similar to those under pressure from outside groups: Ayotte, Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada.

According to the source, proponents hope that if Murkowski flips, those in favor of tightening gun laws will have a good shot at getting her fellow Alaskan, Sen. Mark Begich, to do the same. But a source close to Begich, however, told CNN that it is very unlikely that he'd change his vote.

He is up for reelection in 2014 in a state that is very pro-gun.

The NRA is likely to be a power that looms large over any deal on background checks, much like it was during the last debate.

After the compromise background check proposal failed, the NRA Institute for Legislative Action released a statement decrying the "misguided" amendment that, it said, would "not reduce violent crime or keep our kids safe in their schools."

"This amendment would have criminalized certain private transfers of firearms between honest citizens, requiring lifelong friends, neighbors and some family members to get federal government permission to exercise a fundamental right or face prosecution," the NRA said.

Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA, made it clear on Friday that his organization would not budge on guns.

"All over this country, everywhere I go, people agree, they want bad guys taken off the streets and they want children protected in their schools," he said. "And they don't' want their freedom taken away."

In addition to LaPierre, several potential contenders for the 2016 GOP nomination will take the stage in Houston, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin spoke to the group as well.

Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, asked by one of the other victims of the Giffords shooting if he thought background checks would come up again, said there was a "50-50" chance that it would.

A spokeswoman for Democratic Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, one of the more high-profile Democrats to vote against the provision, told CNN that if such a bill were to come up, "Max will evaluate it based on the feedback he gathers from the people of Montana, just as he always does with any legislation."

But she also said that in his first vote, "Montanans told Max loud and clear they didn't support new gun controls in the previous bill."

CNN's Kevin Liptak and Ashley Killough contributed to this report

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1645 GMT (0045 HKT)
Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords co-authors a piece discussing the lethal mix of domestic violence and guns.
May 30, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
Gun rights and gun control advocates largely agree there should be restrictions on mentally ill people obtaining firearms.
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed a wide-ranging gun bill into law that has critics howling and proponents applauding.
June 13, 2013 -- Updated 1052 GMT (1852 HKT)
Six months after a gunman burst into an elementary school and slaughtered 20 children and killed six others, promises of stricter national gun control laws remain largely unfulfilled.
June 25, 2014 -- Updated 1844 GMT (0244 HKT)
Next time there's a mass shooting, don't jump to blame the NRA and lax gun laws. Look first at the shooter and the mental health services he did or didn't get.
June 8, 2013 -- Updated 1120 GMT (1920 HKT)
The sign at the door of the Colt factory displays a gun with a slash through it. Makes sense for workers at a plant, ironic considering one of the largest arsenals in America lies just beyond.
June 8, 2013 -- Updated 1118 GMT (1918 HKT)
Much attention has been paid to the defeat in Congress of proposals to ban assault weapons and expand background checks for firearm purchases.
June 29, 2013 -- Updated 1304 GMT (2104 HKT)
Morgan Spurlock's "Inside Man" gives an in-depth look at the issue of firearms -- as viewed from behind the counter of a gun store.
May 5, 2014 -- Updated 1728 GMT (0128 HKT)
The Supreme Court continued its recent hands-off approach on gun control, refusing to accept a challenge to New Jersey's restrictions on carrying weapons in public.
April 18, 2013 -- Updated 1502 GMT (2302 HKT)
The Senate defeated a compromise plan to expand background checks on firearms sales as well as a proposal to ban some semi-automatic weapons modeled after military assault weapons.
April 12, 2013 -- Updated 0003 GMT (0803 HKT)
As Congress grapples with major gun control legislation proposals, families write about the people they loved and lost to gun violence and how it changed their lives.
April 11, 2013 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
Hear from both sides of the gun debate as opinions clash.
May 1, 2013 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
It was a bit awkward the first time Kate Daggett asked the question.
April 10, 2013 -- Updated 1341 GMT (2141 HKT)
Many Americans and lawmakers are in favor of continuing or expanding background checks on gun purchases, but few understand how the checks work.
April 4, 2013 -- Updated 1935 GMT (0335 HKT)
Still stinging from the shooting deaths at Sandy Hook, Connecticut lawmakers approved what advocacy groups call the strongest and most comprehensive gun legislation in the nation.
March 29, 2013 -- Updated 1353 GMT (2153 HKT)
It took fewer than five minutes for Adam Lanza to squeeze off 154 rounds, upending life in Newtown, Connecticut, and triggering a renewed national debate over gun control.
Who should get them? Join the gun control debate and share your perspective on CNN iReport.
April 2, 2013 -- Updated 1524 GMT (2324 HKT)
Before having children, she was a firm believer that guns were dangerous. Now this mother of three has a different perspective.
March 19, 2013 -- Updated 2254 GMT (0654 HKT)
In the biggest fight over firearms since December's massacre at a Connecticut elementary school, gun-control advocates are poised to notch a victory in an unlikely place.
A former drug addict turned anti-violence crusader, and a man who lost his father in a temple shooting. These are just two of many in the conversation.
February 1, 2013 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
At a town hall that brought all sides of the gun debate together, was there a consensus? Sort of.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1551 GMT (2351 HKT)
The federal background check system for gun buyers didn't stop a mentally ill man from buying a gun, which he used to kill his mother.
February 1, 2013 -- Updated 0037 GMT (0837 HKT)
In disputes over the future of gun laws, people espousing different positions often literally don't understand each other.
ADVERTISEMENT