Republicans in the Senate are offering an array of reasons why they won’t endorse bills to expand background checks, arguing they won’t work, they would eat away at gun rights and the focus should be on other matters addressing the root causes of crime.
“Every time that there’s an incident like this, the people who don’t want to protect the Second Amendment use it as an excuse to further erode Second Amendment rights,” freshman Sen. Cynthia Lummis, a Wyoming Republican, told CNN, a day after a gunman killed 10 people at a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado. “I no longer believe the goal of people who want to erode our rights, little by little, is to just affect or tweak our rights. I now believe that their ultimate goal is to abolish our rights.”
“I think we’ve got enough background checks,” Sen. Tommy Tuberville, a fellow freshman and Alabama Republican, said Tuesday.
The comments were echoed among members of their leadership and in the rank-and-file, the latest example of how getting 60 votes to advance a broad background checks bill stands little chance of passing the Senate. Democrats are now pointing to the GOP resistance as a reason why the Senate’s rules should be changed so 51 senators can break a filibuster, rather than 60, but they lack enough support to change the rules within their own caucus.
The Democratic-led House passed two bills this month that would expand background checks, including one that would require checks for all sales and transfers including between private parties, at gun shows and over the Internet.
That plan is broader than a bipartisan plan proposed by Republican Sen. Pat Toomey and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin that failed to clear a GOP-led filibuster in 2013 in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre, a legislative effort that was furiously opposed by the National Rifle Association. The bill would have required background checks on armed sales at gun shows and over the Internet but stopped short on requiring checks in private transfers, such as between family members.
Manchin told CNN on Tuesday that he opposes the broader House-passed bills that include checks on sales between private parties.
“No, I don’t support what the House passed. Not at all,” he told CNN as he left the Senate floor.
Manchin added, “So I’m still basically where Pat Toomey and I have been: The most reasonable responsible gun piece of legislation (is) called Gun Sense, which is basically saying that commercial transactions should be a background checked. Commercial, you don’t know a person. If I know a person, no.”
Whether the Manchin-Toomey plan can be resurrected remains to be seen.
Toomey told CNN on Tuesday that he would see if his bill could be modified to win over some Republican support to “find something that can pass.”
“So, I have acknowledged from the very first time that Sen. Manchin and I unveiled our bill that it is not a panacea,” Toomey said, responding to GOP criticism. “So that criticism is true, if the idea is to find a solution that would, like, end massacres, but there is no solution to that I don’t think. But the goal I think is to reduce the risk and background checks on commercial sales would reduce the risk.”
Indeed, some Republicans are signaling an interest in some incremental changes.
On Tuesday, GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said he supports expanding background checks on all commercial gun sales, but he said he hasn’t reviewed the Manchin-Toomey proposal recently so wouldn’t commit to endorsing that plan.
“I support background checks on all commercial gun sales,” Cornyn told reporters.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, also said that he thinks the Senate could work a bill he’s reintroducing called The Alice Boland Act, which says, “If you’ve been adjudicated as a danger to yourself or others, that those adjudications have to be enrolled into the background system because they’re not right now.”
But asked if he backs the Manchin-Toomey plan, Graham said: “No.”
Indeed, Republicans are skeptical there would be 10 votes for any of the leading background check proposals – a prediction that many Democrats concede is almost certainly true.
“There is not big appetite among our members to do things that would appear to be addressing it but don’t actually do anything to fix the problem,” said Senate Minority Whip John Thune, a Republican of South Dakota.
Those claims came up during a contentious hearing Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee on gun violence, in which Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas railed against Democrats for “ridiculous theater” and instead called for legislation to prevent those with “serious mental disease” and other violent criminals from getting guns.
“We have a lot of drunk drivers in America that kill a lot of people,” said Sen. John Kennedy, a Republican of Louisiana. “We ought to combat that too. But I think that many folks on my side of the aisle are saying is the answer is not to get rid of all sober drivers. The answer is to concentrate on the problem.”
Other Republicans rejected any calls to expand background checks.
“I just don’t understand why everybody keeps focusing on that,” Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, said when asked about the Manchin-Toomey proposal to expand background checks at gun shows and over the Internet. “It wouldn’t have prevented any of these shootings.”
This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.