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Bipartisan background-check bill stalls as GOP balks

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Of all the high-profile elements of the agenda to prevent gun violence, universal background checks seem like the most obvious no-brainer, at least politically. It's one of the very few ideas that enjoys 90% support -- in any area of public policy -- and opponents generally struggle to think of coherent arguments against it.

With this in mind, when an ideologically diverse group of bipartisan senators -- two Republicans and two Democrats -- got together to craft a background-check bill, there was reason for optimism. This, more than the assault-weapons ban, seemed to be on track for serious consideration.

At least, it did.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is moving ahead without a Republican partner on legislation to expand background checks to private gun sales, a troubling sign for the centerpiece of President Obama's gun-violence agenda.

Schumer has negotiated for weeks with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) to reach a bipartisan deal on background checks, but the talks stalled over the thorny question of how to implement an expansion of background checks.

Schumer argues expanded background checks are unenforceable unless sellers or gun dealers who perform the checks are required to keep records. Coburn says gun owners will not accept the bureaucratic onus of keeping paperwork for exercising their Second Amendment rights.

It's a curious argument from Coburn. Sure, it'd be nice to prevent illegal gun sales, but, you know, paperwork is bad.

Complicating matters, Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), both of whom were part of the team working on the bill, issued a joint statement last night saying Schumer's current proposal "is one we cannot support as it stands today." Unlike Coburn, however, Kirk and Manchin appear willing to continue talks to reach a bipartisan solution, even if they're opposed to Schumer's latest version.

And making matters slightly worse still, proponents are also starting to compete with the clock.

Supporters of this and related measures still hope to move quickly, and to that end, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) intends to begin the legislative process in earnest today. Indeed, Schumer hoped to have the background-check proposal finished yesterday, so it could be part of today's committee markup.

Instead, Schumer will introduce his Fix Gun Checks Act without the three senators he's been working with for weeks. It will not include the concessions the Democrat was prepared to accept as part of the bipartisan talks, since from Schumer's perspective, there's no real point -- he might as well push the bill he wants now that he's running out of negotiating partners.

This is not to say the proposal is doomed, and Greg Sargent reported yesterday that supporters "will step up outreach to other Republican Senators -- among them John McCain and Susan Collins -- to win support for the bill."

In the larger context, I'd just add that if gun-safety ideas enjoy overwhelming, bipartisan support from the American mainstream -- Rachel noted on the show last night that 89% of Oklahomans support universal background checks, and Oklahoma is arguably the "reddest" state in the country --- and still struggle to get broad support from Republicans on Capitol Hill, there's a problem.