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GOP Sen. Lankford has 'no issue' with stronger gun background checks

Republican Sen. James Lankford said Sunday he is open to stronger background checks for gun sales.

WASHINGTON — Republican Sen. James Lankford said Sunday he is open to stronger background checks for gun sales but resisted calls to ban assault weapons after another mass school shooting.

“I have no issue with more extensive background checks, I have no issue for slowing down purchases for people that show all the basic warning signs,” Lankford said in an exclusive interview on “Meet The Press.”

Lankford, who represents deep-red Oklahoma, pressed for passage of a bipartisan gun bill introduced late last year dubbed the “Fix NICS Act,” which attempts to find solutions and add accountability measures to help ensure specific background records are in the proper systems. The bill was crafted by Sens. John Cornyn, R.-Texas, and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Lankford signed on as a co-sponsor in December.

Calls for gun control reform on the national level have been re-awakened once again after 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, were killed by gunman Wednesday. The debate played out on the Sunday shows, with a heavy focus on the legality of guns like the AR-15, the firearm that was used in the Parkland shooting and many other mass shootings over the last several years.

Most Republicans in Congress have resisted calls to ban the weapon.

“The problem is not owning an AR-15, it’s the person who owns it,” Lankford said, noting it can be used for hunting in some cases and he knows people in his neighborhood who have one.

“There are three or four, five times as many crimes committed with a handgun than there are with a rifle,” the senator added. “I'm fully aware that you've got situations like this, with a mass shooting with an AR-15. But the pistol has still been the weapon of choice for murderers.”

Democrats, however, have largely rallied around efforts to ban the gun that has seemingly become the weapon of choice for mass shooters.

Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont issued a call to reinstate the federal assault weapons ban in an interview on "Meet The Press" after Lankford.

"We should not be selling assault weapons in this country," he said. "These weapons are not for hunting, they are for killing human beings. These are military weapons."

Ohio’s Republican Gov. John Kasich, who received an “A” rating from the NRA during his time as governor, said on CNN Sunday that Congress should consider “common sense” gun laws, including banning “bump stocks,” which turn semi-automatic weapons into automatic weapons. He also suggested a break with many in his party by saying Congress should revisit the AR-15.

The governor recounted a conversation with a friend of his who is a gun collector. “I said, ‘All of a sudden, you couldn't buy an AR-15, what would you lose? Would you feel as though your Second Amendment rights would be eroded because you couldn't buy a God-darn AR-15?’ These are the things that have to be looked at.”

The comments from Kasich signaled his shift on the issue since his earlier years as governor and even when he ran for president. But he still wasn’t optimistic that any new piece of legislation dealing with firearms or background checks could pass in today’s Congress.

“Do I think they can do anything on guns? I hope they prove me wrong, and they can, because I have no confidence in them," he said.

Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, another sponsor of the Fix NICS Act, also didn’t have high hopes on Sunday that any new gun laws will pass any time soon.

“I am usually a very optimistic person,” he told CBS News. “I worked tirelessly across the aisle… I am not optimistic that until there is real action by the American public to demand change in Congress that we're going to see real action to confront gun violence out of this Congress.”