Sen. Chuck Schumer predicted that expanding background checks to cover nearly all gun purchases would be the legislative "sweet spot" where both parties could come together and pass new laws in the wake of the school shooting in Newtown.
Polls suggested Schumer was right, with broad public support for expanded background checks.
But so far, Schumer is still searching for a consensus in Congress.
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Schumer's place-holder bill emerged from the Judiciary Committee today, but on a narrow, party-line vote, with 10 Democrats in favor and eight Republicans against.
Last week, Schumer effectively ceased negotiations with Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, a Republican ally of the National Rifle Association, over the issue of whether to keep records for gun purchases. Coburn adamantly opposed keeping any records of lawful gun purchases by private sellers.
That leaves Schumer searching for an authentically conservative co-sponsor who might provide some cover for other Republicans to join the bill.
Senator Chuck Grassley, who recently provided such cover for an anti-gun-trafficking bill being pushed by Schumer's colleague, Kirsten Gillibrand, questioned the need for expanded background checks, and invoked the specter of a federal gun registry that could lead to broad gun confiscation.
“Why would anyone think that criminals would comply with broader background check requirements?” asked the iowa senator, according to the Washington Post. “They would be drawn more to straw purchases … the effectiveness of this bill is highly questionable.”
“This idea that this will lead to national registration or confiscation, I have to tell you — my good friend, Chuck Grassley — that to me demeans the argument here," Schumer replied.
Despite the committee vote, Schumer said he still thinks a compromise is possible
"The issue of background checks remains the sweet spot," he said in a statement. "It can pass Congress and make a difference in preventing gun violence. We will work nonstop in the next couple weeks to continue negotiating a bipartisan compromise, and we are optimistic we can achieve one."