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Senate Group Near Agreement on Background Checks for Gun Buyers

Washington — A bipartisan group of senators is on the verge of a deal that would expand background checks to all private firearms sales with limited exemptions, but significant disagreements remain on the issue of keeping records of private gun sales, according to aides familiar with the talks.

An agreement would be a bold first step toward consideration of legislation to limit gun violence in the wake of the mass shootings at a Connecticut elementary school in December and comes as the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected this week to begin considering new proposals to limit gun violence.

The talks, led by two Democrats and two Republicans, are expected to earn more GOP support in the coming days and likely enough to move the bill through the Senate, according to senior aides of both parties who were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

“These negotiations are challenging, as you’d expect on an issue as complicated as guns,” the chief negotiator, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement yesterday. “But all of the senators involved are approaching this in good faith. We are all serious about wanting to get something done, and we are going to keep trying.”

Resolution of whether to keep records of private sales is key to earning the support of one of the Republicans involved in the talks, Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, who has a solid A-rating from the influential National Rifle Association and could provide political cover for lawmakers of both parties who are wary of supporting the plan. Coburn has declined to comment on the talks, saying recently that “I don’t negotiate through the press.”

Democrats say that keeping records of private sales is necessary to enforce any new law and because current federal law requires licensed firearm dealers to keep records. Records of private sales also would help law enforcement trace back the history of a gun used in a crime, according to Democratic aides. Republicans, however, believe that records of private sales could put an undue burden on gun owners or could be perceived by gun rights advocates as a precursor to a national gun registry.

Coburn and Schumer are joined in their talks by Sens. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., while aides in both parties anticipate that Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Susan Collins of Maine could also endorse the plan soon. McCain and Collins have said they generally support legislation expanding background checks, while a Flake spokeswoman said yesterday that he is still reviewing the proposal.

More Republican support is anticipated in part because the four senators involved in the talks have agreed that any new background check program would exempt private transactions between family members or people who completed a background check in order to obtain a concealed-carry permit, according to aides. But the four senators are grappling with how to make the process of obtaining a background check as seamless as possible for private dealers while also ensuring that someone keeps a record of the transaction.

The background check proposal is considered the most politically viable plan among several introduced in the weeks since the Newtown, Conn., school shooting. Schumer is facing pressure from the White House and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to draft a bill by this week in time for the committee to consider as early as Thursday, when the panel is scheduled to meet to review bills.