Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Gun control hopes fade as Joe Manchin admits: 'We will not get the votes today'

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Democrat co-author offers downbeat assessment that reform bill to expand background checks will not pass Senate

National efforts to introduce tougher gun controls measures in the wake of the Newtown school shooting risked grinding to a halt on Wednesday as senators faced an uphill task passing even a watered-down compromise bill to expand background checks.

Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania, and Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, had hoped their proposed compromise deal to include gun shows and online sales in the federal background-check system would garner enough support among moderates to clear the Senate.

But a number of Republicans who initially rebelled against their party leadership, and voted in favour of allowing the debate to take place, have since indicated they will not vote for the crucial amendment.

Despite conceding he may not have the 60 votes needed to prevent further procedural opposition, Senate majority leader Harry Reid has now announced he will hold a vote on the Manchin-Toomey amendment at 4pm on Wednesday.

"It's time to vote," announced Reid last night, a move that may prove to be more about embarrassing Senate Republicans into blocking the amendment with a filibuster than reflecting serious hopes of it passing.

Senator Manchin was gloomier still on Wednesday morning, telling NBC: "We will not get the votes today."

Manchin, who was working the phones until midnight and again at 6am Wednesday, hopes to try again in future, but his attempt to compromise with Republicans on this limited gun control measure may mark the high water mark in efforts to use the momentum caused by Newtown to change US gun culture.

Senators have heard passionate pleas from families of the Newtown victims who flew to Washington with President Obama on Air Force One to press their case. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was severely injured in a gun attack in Tucson in 2011, has also been meeting Senate colleagues to try to convince them that the background check deal did not infringe second-amendment gun rights.

Even if passed, the measure would fall far short of the package of reforms urged by Obama in the weeks after Newtown, which including restoring a Clinton-era ban on assault weapons and limiting the size of magazine clips.

Using executive orders, Obama was able to announce a few limited measures in January, such as new funding for research into violence, but anything lasting requires breaking through Republican opposition in Congress.

Some states, such as New York and Connecticut, have tightened gun laws in the wake of Newtown, but almost as many have acted to loosen them, according to a recent Wall Street Journal study, making it hard to achieve any national solution through state legislation.

Opposition in Congress has been bolstered by fierce lobbying by the National Rifle Association, which raised record amounts of money in the months after Newtown to lobby politicians, and has threatened political retribution against any that voted for the Toomey-Manchin proposal. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


Tom McCarthy 17 Apr, 2013

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