National Security

Prognosis Negative for Background Check Bill

Senate to vote on nine gun bills

Sen. Dianne Feinstein speaks about gun legislation on Senate floor, April 17 / AP

The Senate will vote on expanding background checks for firearm sales Wednesday afternoon, but what was once considered Democrats’ most viable option for gun control legislation does not appear to have the necessary 60 votes to proceed.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D., N.D.) became the first Democrat to publicly come out against the Manchin-Toomey background check bill.

"I commend Sens. Manchin and Toomey for working so hard to bring a serious bill to the floor," Heitkamp said in a statement. "However, in its current form I do not see a path for my support. I’ve thought long and hard about this, I’ve taken the tough meetings, and I’ve heard overwhelmingly from the people of North Dakota; and at the end of the day my duty is to listen to and represent the people of North Dakota."

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R., N.H.), one of several on-the-fence Republicans whose vote was needed to pass the bill, also announced Wednesday morning she was opposed to the background check amendment.

"I believe that restricting the rights of law-abiding gun owners will not prevent a deranged individual or criminal from obtaining and misusing firearms to commit violence," Ayotte said in a statement. "While steps must be taken to improve the existing background check system, I will not support the Manchin-Toomey legislation, which I believe would place unnecessary burdens on law-abiding gun owners and allow for potential overreach by the federal government into private gun sales."

Ayotte also announced she was supporting a replacement amendment drafted by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) and Ted Cruz (R., Texas), which the Washington Free Beacon first detailed Tuesday.

In addition to several Republicans, the bill's passage requires the votes of Democratic senators from red states who face reelection in 2014. Sen. Kay Hagan (D., N.C.) announced she would vote yes on Manchin-Toomey on Monday. However, other Democrats in a similar situation—including Mark Pryor (D., Ark.), Mark  Begich (D., Alaska), and Mary Landrieu (D., La.)—have all thus far remained silent.

A GOP Senate aide told the Free Beacon Hagan's decision to jump out early in support of Manchin-Toomey was "a testament to her skills" as a politician.

The background check amendment was a bipartisan deal hammered out by Sens. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) and Joe Manchin (D., W.V.).

While political commentators and journalists have declared the Manchin-Toomey bill dead, the White House has refused to officially throw in the towel.

"The path to 60 is difficult but it is not unachievable," White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a briefing today.

The defeat of the bill would be a blow to President Barack Obama, who made gun control a central part of his second-term agenda following the shootings in Newtown, Conn.

Democrats initially laid out a bold plan to expand background checks, ban high-capacity magazines, and reinstitute a ban on so-called "assault weapons," such as the AR-15 semiautomatic rifles used in several mass shootings.

An assault weapons ban authored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) will be voted on as an amendment Wednesday. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), who previously opposed assault weapons ban, announced Wednesday morning that he will support Feinstein’s bill.

The Senate will also vote on a ban on high-capacity magazines. However, few senators appear to have much appetite for the bills, especially in the face of stiff opposition from the National Rifle Association (NRA) and gun owners across the country.

Anti-gun trafficking legislation authored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) is also on Wednesday’s schedule.

Republicans are moving forward with a slate of their own amendments as well. Cruz and Grassley announced an amendment to replace the Toomey-Manchin bill Wednesday morning that would strengthen the FBI’s criminal background check system and increase federal prosecutions of gun violence.

The NRA announced Wednesday morning it would support the Cruz-Grassley bill, as will the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas) has also introduced a concealed carry reciprocity amendment, which would allow individuals with conceal carry privileges in their own state to conceal carry across state lines into other states that also permit it.

Finally, Sens. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa) and Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.) coauthored a bill that would authorize mental health programs and support for teenagers.