Democrats are quietly targeting a handful of Republican senators from states rocked by mass shootings about passing legislation that would at long last close the so-called gun show loophole, according to a person involved in the efforts.
The gap in the law, which exempts private-party weapon sales from undergoing federal background checks in 31 states, has long been an issue of concern for Democrats in favor of beefed-up gun control.
With reclaimed control of the House, a gun reform bill is likely to breeze through the lower chamber. However, Democrats would face an uphill battle to get such a measure through the Senate, where Republicans expanded their majority in the midterms and where a bill needs 60 votes to pass.
While there’s not an actual bill on the table yet, the source familiar with the matter told the Daily News that Dems have consequently launched an early push to lobby the loophole issue to Republican senators from states where gun violence has become a dire political topic. Among them are Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
Rubio, a longtime recipient of National Rifle Association cash, has faced increased pressure to support gun control efforts since a 19-year-old gunman stormed into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and killed 17 people in February.
The Florida Republican drew the ire of Democrats and gun control advocates after he claimed in the wake of the massacre that stricter gun laws wouldn’t have prevented the shooter.
“He’s going to have to back a bill like this or he’s going to be in trouble with his voters,” the source said.
Rubio, who’s up for reelection in 2022, did not respond to multiple requests for comment via his spokespeople. His state is among those that currently do not require background checks to be conducted on private-party weapon sales.
Toomey, meanwhile, represents Pittsburgh, where authorities say an anti-Semitic gunman killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue last month.
Contrary to Rubio and most Senate Republicans, Toomey is openly in favor of passing some gun control legislation and introduced a failed bill with Democrat Joe Manchin following the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012 that would have closed the loophole that is now being targeted anew.
“Senator Toomey has introduced bipartisan legislation multiple times to expand firearm background checks to cover all commercial sales, including those made online and at gun shows,” said Steve Kelly, a spokesman for Toomey. “He continues to talk with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to find a path forward to 60 votes.”
Toomey’s home state has passed a law that requires background checks on private-party sales of handguns, but other firearms remain exempt.
The person involved in the Democratic gun control push reasoned that if they manage to get Republicans on board from states ravaged by gun violence, a ripple effect could ensue and embolden other GOP senators to break ranks and back legislation to close the loophole. With polls showing that an overwhelming majority of Americans support increased gun control, the prospects are likely even stronger, the source said.
However, getting to 60 votes in the Senate will still be difficult, as a significant number of Republican senators have received financial backing from the NRA, which is vehemently opposed to passing any type of gun control.
Spokespeople for the NRA did not respond to requests for comment.
Another senator the source said is being targeted by Dems about the measure is Susan Collins of Maine, who has expressed support for gun control legislation in the past.
Annie Clark, a spokeswoman for Collins, declined to comment on any ongoing discussions but affirmed the senator’s support for conducting background checks on “all commercial transactions.”
“Comprehensive background checks would prevent convicted criminals and those with dangerous mental illnesses from purchasing guns without infringing on law-abiding gun owners’ rights,” Clark said.
While the loophole did not play a part in the Parkland and Tree of Life shootings, gun control advocates have long argued it’s a small step in the right direction as mass shootings have become horrifically common. As of this week, there had been 314 mass shootings since Jan. 1 — nearly one per day, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
Additionally, the loophole was a factor in other mass shootings, including the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, in which three of the four weapons used were purchased at a gun show and hadn’t been subject to background checks.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who would ultimately lead the Democratic charge for increased gun control in the upper chamber, took heart in the blue wave that swept over the House and said it has facilitated “hope and possibility to pass a gun background check bill.”
“Americans are fed up with the unbending position of the NRA, which is to do nothing now and always, no matter how many lives are lost,” Schumer said.
Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who’s widely expected to become the next House speaker, did not return requests for comment, but she made clear in an interview with CNN last week that gun control will be at the forefront as the next Congress comes into session on Jan. 2.
“There is bipartisan legislation to have common sense background checks to prevent guns going into the wrong hands,” Pelosi said. “It doesn’t cover everything, but it will save many lives.”
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