Senate Measure Expands Background Checks for Gun Buyers
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Senate Measure Expands Background Checks for Gun Buyers

REUTERS/Andy Clark

Prospects for a gun control bill’s passage in the Senate in coming weeks got a boost on Wednesday with a bipartisan agreement on background checks for gun buyers.

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania brokered the deal and were scheduled to announce it during a news conference at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT) Wednesday.

According to a Senate Democratic aide, the measure would expand criminal background checks for prospective gun buyers to include sales made at gun shows and online.

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Sales among friends or family members would be exempt from the requirement, which is designed to close many loopholes. Analysts have said as many as 40 percent of gun buyers have been able to avoid background checks under the current system.

The proposal for expanded background checks – which includes a requirement for sellers to keep records of sales – appears to be Obama’s best hope for meaningful gun control legislation in the wake of the December massacre of 20 children and six adults at a school in Newtown, Connecticut.

Several family members of victims from the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown are in Washington this week to help Obama’s team pressure lawmakers for action.

More controversial parts of the president’s plan – such as a ban on rapid-firing "assault" weapons like the one used in Connecticut and limits on the capacity of ammunition magazines – appear to have a slim chance of clearing the U.S. Senate, which is led by Obama’s Democrats. Such measures face an even tougher road in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

Manchin’s participation in the deal on background checks is widely seen as boosting the prospects for the legislation’s passage. The freshman senator represents a state where gun ownership has long been passionately protected and where attempts to regulate guns have been strongly opposed.

On Thursday, the Senate is scheduled to hold its first test vote on a gun control bill.

More than a dozen conservative Republican senators have threatened a filibuster aimed at delaying consideration of any gun restrictions. But other Republicans – many acknowledging public opinion polls that have shown that more than 80 percent of Americans favor expanded background checks – have said Obama’s proposals should get a floor vote in the Senate. Senate Leader Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who schedules votes in the chamber, has echoed that position.

The measure likely to pass the Senate, expected to include expanded background checks, more funding for school security and tighter restrictions on gun trafficking, falls far short of what Obama had pressed for. But it is more extensive than what the influential National Rifle Association, the nation’s largest gun rights group, has warned that it would accept.

Whatever gun control measures clear the Senate, they are likely to face a more challenging path in the House, where many Republicans have vowed to oppose any gun restrictions.