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Deal to expand gun background checks takes form

Bipartisan effort in Senate could be a breakthrough

On Monday, President Obama will again make the case for gun legislation, with a speech at the University of Hartford.

Charles Dharapak/Associated Press

On Monday, President Obama will again make the case for gun legislation, with a speech at the University of Hartford.

WASHINGTON — Two influential senators, one from each party, are working on an agreement that could expand background checks on firearms sales to include gun shows and online transactions, Senate aides said Sunday.

If completed, the effort could represent a breakthrough in the effort by President Obama and his allies to restrict guns following last December’s massacre of schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn.

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Senators Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, and Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, could nail down an accord early this week, said the aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the private talks.

With the Senate returning Monday from a two-week recess, the chamber’s debate on gun control legislation could begin as soon as Tuesday, though it might be delayed if the lawmakers need more time to complete a deal, the aides said.

The potential deal, which aides cautioned still might change, would exempt transactions between relatives and temporary transfers for hunters and sportsmen, they said.

Manchin is a moderate who touts an A rating from the National Rifle Association, which has opposed Obama’s gun control drive. Toomey has solid conservative credentials and was elected to the Senate two years ago with Tea Party support from his Democratic-leaning state.

A united front by the two lawmakers would make it easier for gun control advocates to attract support from moderate Democrats who have been wary of supporting the effort and from Republicans who have largely opposed it so far.

With conservative Republicans threatening a filibuster, Democrats will need 60 of the chamber’s 100 votes to prevail. There are 53 Democrats and two Democratic-leaning independents in the Senate.

Federal background checks are currently required only for transactions handled by the roughly 55,000 federally licensed firearms dealers; private sales such as gun-show or online purchases are exempt. The system is designed to keep guns from criminals, people with serious mental problems, and some others.

After 20 first-graders and six elementary school staffers were killed at Newtown, Obama proposed applying the requirement to virtually all firearms sales. Gun control advocates consider expanded background checks to be the most effective step lawmakers could take to curb gun violence.

On Monday, Obama will again make the case for gun legislation, with a speech at the University of Hartford. He will meet with relatives of the Newtown victims.

Also high on Congress’s agenda is immigration, where a decisive moment is approaching.

Bipartisan groups in the House and Senate are expected to present legislation as early as this week aimed at securing the US border, fixing legal immigration, and granting legal status to an estimated 11 million people who are in the United States without authorization. Votes by the Senate Judiciary Committee are expected later this month.

The Senate’s immigration study group already missed a self-imposed deadline to have the bill ready in March, but Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, said he hopes that this week, it will happen. ‘‘All of us have said that there will be no agreement until the eight of us agree to a big, specific bill, but hopefully we can get that done,’’ Schumer said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.’’

White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said Sunday on ABC’s ‘‘This Week’’ that Obama has been working with lawmakers from both parties to get the strongest possible provisions on gun background checks.

Other Obama gun control priorities include banning assault weapons and ammunition magazines with more than 10 rounds. Both bans are expected to be offered as amendments when Senate debate begins, but the assault weapons ban seems sure to be defeated and the high-capacity magazine prohibition also faces difficult odds.

For weeks, Manchin has been part of an effort to craft a background check compromise, along with Schumer and Mark Kirk, Republican of Illinois. Schumer focused his efforts on conservative Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, but talks sputtered over Schumer’s insistence on requiring that records be kept of private gun sales.

Proponents say background checks and records — which are currently retained by gun dealers, not the government — are the best way to ensure that would-be gun-buyers’ histories are researched. Opponents say the system is a step toward government files on gun owners and say criminals routinely skirt the checks anyway.

With or without an agreement on screening, the Senate gun legislation would toughen federal laws against illegal firearms sales, including against straw purchasers, those who buy firearms for criminals or others barred from owning them.

The legislation also would provide $40 million a year, a modest increase from current levels of $30 million, for a federal program that helps schools take safety measures such as reinforcing classroom doors.

In addition, the gun bill contains language by Schumer to expand background checks to cover nearly all gun transactions, with narrow exceptions that include sales involving immediate relatives. Even without a bipartisan deal, Schumer is expected to expand the exemptions to more relatives, people with permits to carry concealed weapons, and others. Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, urged fellow Republicans to allow debate to go forward without a filibuster, even as he declined to express support for a background check bill.

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