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Appearing with Newtown families, Dems vow to push forward on gun control

The Senate’s top Democrat vowed to eventually advance gun control legislation through the chamber during an appearance alongside Newtown families on Thursday, but stopped well short of offering a commitment as to when he might attempt such a thing.

The Obama administration has renewed its push to advance its gun control agenda, which coincides with the six-month anniversary of last December’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown. Victims’ families were on Capitol Hill to observe a daylong memorial event, and lobby lawmakers to finally pass gun control legislation. But it remains unclear whether Democrats have found a new path forward for their gun proposals after the Senate fell short of advancing a compromise measure in April that would have expanded background checks to cover firearms purchased online or at gun shows.

“Background checks will pass the United States Senate,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. “It's only a matter of when.”

Reid said “the writing is on the wall” for opponents of those stricter gun rules, and the Democratic leader singled out the handful of senators from his own party who joined with most Republicans in April to block the background check proposal, known as “Manchin-Toomey” after its bipartisan sponsors.

But Reid did not set any timeline for recalling the legislation for a vote, something that’s almost guaranteed not to happen during the next few weeks, as the Senate works its way through a contentious debate over landmark immigration reform proposals. Both of Connecticut’s senators said at Thursday’s event that they expected another vote, and for that vote to be successful. But it’s far from clear when that vote might come.

Reid did say that he was making overtures toward some Senate Republicans, with some success, but he refused to accept a “watered-down” version of the background checks bill that failed two months ago.

“If somebody has an idea that doesn’t weaken the bill, I’ll be happy to talk to them,” he said. “At this point, I’ve got nothing.”

Even then, the legislation would face an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Newtown families met on Wednesday with the GOP leadership, but there are few signs that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, would agree to hold the up-or-down vote on the background checks package in the House.

“It was a good meeting, but it was a private meeting, and I'll leave it at that,” Boehner said Thursday of that meeting, adding that the House Judiciary Committee was continuing to “look at existing laws and how they can be improved.”