The gun-friendly sponsors of the watered-down background check amendment to the gun bill—Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennysylvania and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia—conceded Monday afternoon that they had fallen short of their goal, although both expressed optimism that they would ultimately succeed. Manchin said:
"We've got to work hard and the more people know about the bill, the more people read the bill, the more people see the facts of the bill, it breaks down all the misnomers," he said of what he called misinformation about the background check proposal being spread by opponents.
There was movement in favor of the bill on Monday. Democratic Sens. Jon Tester of Montana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina, whose positions had been uncertain previously, said they would vote in favor. But three Democrats are probably "nay" votes: Max Baucus of Montana; Mark Pryor of Arkansas; and Mark Begich of Alaska. Both Begich and Pryor voted against ending the Republican filibuster last week. Two other Democrats, freshman Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana could still swing either way.
Four of the 16 Republicans who voted to break the filibuster also can be counted in favor of the bill: Toomey, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Susan Collins of Maine and John McCain Arizona.
But 10 of the 16, some of whose votes had remained iffy until Monday, are now firmly arrayed against the bill: Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of Tennessee; Jeff Flake of Arizona; Richard Burr of North Carolina; Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson of Georgia; Tom Coburn of Oklahoma; Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; John Hoeven of North Dakota; and Roger Wicker of Mississippi. That leaves just two who voted against the filibuster undecided: Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Dean Heller of Nevada.
Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas said late Monday that GOP senators are free to "vote their conscience" and he will not whip the votes on the bill. After a meeting with Republicans Monday, Toomey said the leadership had chosen to “let the chips fall where they fall."
Even if Majority Leader Harry Reid can cajole Heitkamp, Landrieu, Ayotte and Heller to sign on, however, he will still only have 58 votes. Please continue reading below the fold to see what's being done to get those still-needed votes.
In an effort to find those needed extra votes, The New York Times reported late Monday night, Manchin and Toomey are considering options such as exempting from background checks residents of rural areas who live hundreds of miles from a gun dealer. That, they hope, might be the kind of tweak that brings Begich and even Alaska's Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski into the ranks of the supporters.
If the Democratic leadership cannot get the needed 60 votes for the Manchin-Toomey proposal, what's left of the already wounded gun bill—provisions on tougher penalties for gun trafficking and straw purchases plus more federal money for school safety—might be joined by several Republican amendments. Those include one by Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma that would expand background checks to buys at gun shows and the internet but without requiring any record-keeping. Without records of sales, however, such a bill wouldn't be worth the paper it's printed on.
Losing on Manchin-Toomey, or seeing it watered-down even more than it already has been, might not be the worst thing that could happen. Republican amendments to the gun bill could make it easier for the dangerously mentally ill to obtain firearms, for instance.
And then there is the National Rifle Association's wet dream: getting what would amount to a federalization of concealed-carry permits by mandating that anyone who has a permit from any state to carry a hidden guns be allowed to do so throughout the United States. This would mean people from states that have bare minimum standards for getting such a permit would be able to carry concealed firearms in states with tougher standards.