Senate sets aside gun bill, for now

WASHINGTON -- The Senate formally shelved further consideration of gun legislation Thursday even as supporters of a plan to expand background-check requirements vowed to keep pushing the issue.

The decision to set the bill aside came after a showdown Wednesday in which the Senate rejected seven amendments to a larger gun bill. The most significant defeat was the bipartisan amendment sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W. Va.) and Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) to require all commercial gun sellers to run background checks of potential buyers, including transactions online or at gun shows.

The Senate did adopt two amendments Thursday – one from a Republican senator aimed at protecting the privacy of gun owners, and a bipartisan measure on mental health issues. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid then took a procedural step to table the gun bill while vowing to revive it in the future.

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“Make no mistake, this debate is not over. In fact, this fight is just beginning,” Reid said. “I've spoken with the president. He and I agree that the best way to keep working toward passing a background-check bill is to hit a pause and freeze the background-check bill where it is.… This will allow senators to keep negotiating.”

Manchin admitted that the emotions were “raw” after a tough vote. In a breakfast meeting with reporters hosted by editors of the Wall Street Journal, he used an expletive to describe what he considered a misinformation campaign by the National Rifle Assn. that he thinks cost supporters of his proposal more than a dozen votes.

“If they hadn’t scored it, we’d have gotten 70 votes,” he said.

Still, Manchin vowed to continue working to pass a bill, saying he would work with those senators who voted no to find out what might make them more comfortable.

Toomey, though, indicated he had a limited appetite for doing so.

“I gave this my best shot,” he said. “I’ll be happy to discuss this with Sen. Manchin. But we had a vote yesterday.”

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Told of Toomey’s view, Manchin responded: “I assume that we have ownership whether you like it or not.”

Most senators who voted to block the measure Wednesday defended their decisions. Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) disputed the idea that his vote against the background-check plan showed he was “beholden to the NRA,” and likewise said he was not concerned about gun-control groups who are vowing political consequences.

“That’s the beauty of a six-year term,” he said. “I truly want to do something on this, but what has been a little upsetting is to hear people try to maintain that we were just caving to pressure, discounting any issues that we had with the legislation, with the language. That’s just not right.”

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), who is up for reelection next year, brushed off the threat from independent groups to target Democrats who voted no.

“That’s why people in Arkansas elected me for six year terms, to use my best judgment,” he said. “[I’ll] make my case with the people when the time’s right.”

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