WASHINGTON -- A cornerstone of President Barack Obama's drive to curb gun violence is gathering bipartisan steam as four senators, including backers of the National Rifle Association, privately seek compromise on requiring far more firearms purchasers to undergo background checks.
The talks are being held even as Obama's call to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, the two other major pillars of his plan, are hitting rough waters on Capitol Hill.
"We'll get something, I hope. I'm praying for it," said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), one of the participants. Manchin, a moderate Democrat, is an NRA member who aired a 2010 campaign ad in which he literally shot a hole through Democratic environmental legislation that he pledged to oppose. Also involved is Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), an NRA member with a strong conservative record but occasional maverick impulses; No. 3 Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer of New York, a liberal; and moderate GOP Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois.
Background checks are required only for sales by the nation's 55,000 federally licensed gun dealers, but not for private purchases like those at gun shows, online or in person.
There are few current statistics on how many guns change hands without background checks, but a respected study using 1990s data estimated it was 30 percent to 40 percent.
The senators' talks have included discussions about how to encourage states to make more mental health data available to the federal system for checking gun buyers' records, according to people who spoke anonymously. They are also considering potential exemptions to expanded background check requirements, including transactions involving relatives or people with licenses to carry concealed weapons.
Schumer said last week that the talks have been productive and said the package they were seeking "will not limit your ability to borrow your Uncle Willie's hunting rifle or share a gun with your friend at a shooting range."