WASHINGTON -- The debate over guns isn’t over yet.
Supporters – and even opponents – of legislation designed to curb gun violence expect a revised proposal that would expand background checks for firearms sales to return to Congress for a vote later this year, despite a resounding defeat last month.
Vice President Joe Biden, the administration’s point-person on gun control, has renewed a series of meetings with organizations with a vested interest in the issue, from law enforcement officers to religious leaders.
Advocacy groups are pressuring lawmakers they think could be persuaded to change their vote by running ads, packing town halls and signing petitions.
And, perhaps most importantly, senators from both parties are talking privately, seeking small but significant changes to the background check bill to appease critics worried about infringing on privacy and chipping away at the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
“We are at a place that would not have been imaginable in the political landscape four months ago,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, one of the nation’s pre-eminent gun control groups. “We haven’t seen anything like this.”
Following the mass shooting in December at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children dead, President Barack Obama pressed Congress to pass the nation’s most aggressive gun control plan in generations.
But the Democratic-controlled Senate fell short of having the votes needed to approve the proposals – expanding background checks, renewing an assault weapons ban and limiting the size of ammunition clips – after most Republicans and a handful of Democrats rejected them.
Advocates say they were disappointed that the legislation was killed, but they remain invigorated by the first serious gun control debate in two decades. The Brady Bill, which first required checks for purchases from federally licensed dealers, passed in 1993 after more than a half-dozen failed attempts.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has not said when a vote would be held, but Senate leaders say they will need the summer, including the annual August recess, before they can reach consensus. A vote could come as early as September.
“Nobody who was involved in this has abandoned the effort,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a key player in writing the legislation and a former state attorney general.
Both sides expect a second vote, but a victory is not guaranteed. Opposition remains strong.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, found people lined up 3-to-1 against it at his town meetings. “The problem is that nothing in that bill would have prevented any of the recent catastrophes,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the second-ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The focus this time has turned almost solely to expanding background checks to private sales and Internet purchases, a proposal that polls show an overwhelming majority of Americans approve.
But that legislation would not help fix all the loopholes in the law. A host of logistical problems – including concerns about violating privacy, misunderstandings about which records should be submitted and a lack of money and training – has prevented federal and state agencies from submitting millions of mental health and drug abuse records to the database that’s used for background checks.