Top Senate Dems face decisions on gun curb push

By Alan Fram

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, April 9 2013 5:16 p.m. MDT

President Obama holds his hand to his ear during a visit to the University of Hartford, in Hartford, Conn., Monday, April 8, 2013. Obama visited the school to highlight gun control legislation and to meet with the families of victims from the Sandy Hook elementary school shootings.

Charles Krupa, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — As Senate Democrats approach a key decision on gun legislation, relatives of victims of the horrendous Connecticut school shootings are mounting a face-to-face lobbying effort Tuesday in hopes of turning around enough lawmakers to gain a Senate floor vote on meaningful gun restrictions.

Their effort follows President Barack Obama's remarks in Hartford on gun control, an issue catapulted into the national arena by December's gruesome slaying of 20 first-graders and six educators in Newtown, Conn.

"If you want the people you send to Washington to have just an iota of the courage that the educators at Sandy Hook showed when danger arrived on their doorstep, then we're all going to have to stand up," the president said.

Obama's proposals — headlined by background checks for more gun buyers and bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines — have hit opposition from the National Rifle Association and are struggling in Congress. Conservatives say they will use procedural tactics to try preventing the Senate from even debating firearms restrictions.

Underscoring the high emotional stakes, some Newtown families are in the Capitol lobbying senators to support gun restrictions, including 11 relatives Obama ferried back to Washington on Monday aboard Air Force One after his speech.

The administration was continuing its efforts to pressure Republicans, with Vice President Joe Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder making remarks Tuesday at the White House, joined by law enforcement officials.

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, are approaching decision time on whether they should try to get Republican support for expanding background checks for firearms sales or will follow the shakier path of pursuing the cornerstone of Obama's gun control effort on their own.

Democrats were holding a lunchtime meeting Tuesday to assess whether Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., had reached an acceptable compromise — or had a realistic chance of getting one — with Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa. Party leaders were giving Manchin until later Tuesday to complete the talks, and a decision by Democrats seemed likely in the next couple of days.

An agreement between the two senators, both among the more conservative members of their parties, would boost efforts to expand background checks because it could attract bipartisan support. Abandoning those negotiations would put Democrats in a difficult position, making it hard for them to push a measure through the Senate and severely damaging Obama's gun control drive.

In a preview of the Senate's debate, 13 conservative Republicans delivered a letter Monday to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. They promised to try blocking lawmakers from beginning to consider the measure, a procedural move that takes 60 votes to curtail, a difficult hurdle in the 100-member chamber.

The conservatives, who included Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said the Democratic effort would violate the Second Amendment right to bear arms, citing "history's lesson that government cannot be in all places at all times, and history's warning about the oppression of a government that tries."

"Shame on them," Reid responded as he brought Democratic gun legislation to the Senate floor, though debate did not formally begin.

"The least Republicans owe the parents of those 20 little babies who were murdered at Sandy Hook is a thoughtful debate about whether stronger laws could have saved their little girls and boys," Reid said.

Georgia's Sen. Johnny Isakson, a conservative Republican, said Tuesday on "CBS This Morning" that "the issue on background checks is how far they go and whether they violate rights of privacy." But he also said he believes the issue "deserves a vote up or down" in the Senate.

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