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"Closing that gap would make it much more difficult for criminals to obtain firearms," he said.
Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., have been meeting for weeks to try to reach consensus on a plan to expand criminal background checks for private sales.
Talks faltered last week when Coburn said he would oppose provisions mandating extensive record-keeping on gun sales. He subsequently received repeated calls from Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. Coburn said Tuesday that the senators are "very close" to a deal, adding, "I think we’ll eventually get there."
Gun-control advocates say the group, which includes two NRA-backed senators, already has accomplished a lot: breaking with the NRA and agreeing in general on the idea of expanded background checks.
Proponents of expanded checks point out that a records system for gun purchases is already in place. When a person now buys a firearm from one of the country’s 60,000 federally licensed dealers, the purchaser is required to fill out paperwork that stays with the dealer until the store is closed down. Only then are the records sent to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The records can help trace firearms that are used in crimes.
Federal law prohibits the establishment of a national gun registry. But advocates of expanded checks say some record-keeping is necessary because federal authorities would otherwise be unable to trace guns used in crimes.
Figuring out how to meet law enforcement needs without a government-backed database is the question the four senators are contemplating. More gun rights advocates are expressing support for the expansion.
"I support instant background checks on the purchase of all guns to prevent convicted felons from obtaining them," said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., who met recently with the families of shooting victims in his state.
Some well-known gun rights advocates are joining with bipartisan lawmakers to support expanded background checks at the state level.
In Washington state last month, the head of a gun rights group offered to support mandatory background-check legislation for most firearm sales in exchange for a state commitment not to maintain gun records. It’s not clear whether the proposal will succeed but it has drawn support across the divide of the gun debate.
"This is a good compromise with real give-and-take," said Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.
Joel Achenbach and Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.
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