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Gun safety legislation faces an uphill battle in U.S. Senate

WASHINGTON — After West Hempstead on Tuesday joined the growing list of cities with a recent multiple-victim shooting, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer vowed to bring up gun safety legislation for a vote. But it could be several weeks before that happens.

Schumer, New York’s senior Democratic senator, on Tuesday called the grocery store shooting that left one dead and two injured "sad" and declared, "Make no mistake about it, the Senate will move forward with legislation to stop the epidemic of gun violence."

But Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), the Democrats’ point person on gun legislation, has said he expects it won’t be until the end of spring or early summer before he can produce a workable bill in a bid to get the necessary 60 votes — 10 of them from Republicans — to break a filibuster.

Democrats hope to expand background checks to most transfers of firearms, including between private individuals, as a first and foundational step as they eye more difficult goals, such as President Joe Biden’s expressed desire to restore an assault weapons ban.

Republicans for years have put up a formidable wall against Democrats’ gun legislation, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) leading the way. But Murphy is trying to chip away at that resistance.

Murphy said he has spoken to almost half of the Republican senators in recent weeks about expanding background checks. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) also has reached out across the aisle seeking support. Both acknowledge it’s an uphill battle.

Republicans reported to have expressed interest in expanding background checks to some degree include Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah, Rob Portman of Ohio, Todd Young of Indiana and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

Yet Murphy also must address concerns raised within the Democratic caucus by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), whose votes are essential in a Senate evenly divided between the two parties with Vice President Kamala Harris providing the tiebreaking vote.

House Democrats and a handful of Republicans passed bills to require background checks for firearm transfers between private parties, except in cases such as a gift between spouses, and to extend the time FBI had to conduct background checks from three to 10 days.

Many Republicans oppose the bills, and Manchin and Tester said they’re uneasy about one of the House bills’ requirement that private transfers of firearms, with some exceptions, must first go through a background check, a process that is not required now.

Manchin and Toomey proposed a smaller expansion of background checks in a compromise in 2013 that won a majority of the Senate but not a supermajority of 60 to overcome a filibuster.

Still, Democrats and gun-safety activists said they see the current Democratic control of the White House and Congress as the best possible chance in years to pass stronger background checks to address gun violence, especially with public mass shootings emerging again.

Giffords, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Everytown for Gun Safety and other gun control groups are pushing Democrats hard to pass legislation this year.

Adzi Vokhiwa, federal affairs director for the gun-safety group Giffords, said in a phone interview said that it’s hard for Republicans to ignore the rash of mass shootings across the country in the past month in Atlanta, Indianapolis, Boulder, Colo., and other locations, and that the NRA is at its weakest point in years as it goes through a public bankruptcy hearing.

"It's just really, really significant that we're even having a conversation about the possibility of an impending vote in the Senate," Vokhiwa said. "Last year when Mitch McConnell was in charge of the Senate this wasn't even a possibility."

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