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McConnell Says Background-Check Bill Will Be ‘Front and Center’ in Senate Debates as Gun-Control Fight Shifts

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Capitol Hill (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell conceded during a Thursday radio interview that universal-background-check legislation will be “front and center” during the forthcoming Senate debates over gun-control policy, signaling a shift from Republican leadership’s prior refusal to even consider such legislation.

“There is a lot of support for that,” McConnell said of a House-passed bill that would require gun purchasers to undergo a background check even when purchasing a gun from a private seller.

McConnell, who has staunchly opposed background check legislation, made the comments on the local Louisville, Kentucky radio station WHAS just days after a pair of mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas that together claimed 31 lives.

President Trump similarly expressed a willingness to consider background check legislation while talking to reporters outside the White House on Wednesday.

“There is a great appetite, and I mean a very strong appetite, for background checks. And I think we can bring up background checks like we’ve never had before,” Trump said. “I think both Republican[s] and Democrat[s] are getting close to a bill on, to doing something with background checks.”

McConnell suggested during the interview that a universal-background-check bill might be considered alongside red flag legislation that would provide federal funding to help states implement a system in which gun owners can be temporarily disarmed if they are reported to be a threat by family members of coworkers.

A number of prominent Senate Republicans, including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida, and Rob Portman of Ohio, have called for the immediate passage of red flag legislation in the wake of the weekend’s tragedies. But Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer appeared to dismiss the possibility of finding common ground on the legislation on Wednesday.

“The notion that passing a tepid version of an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) bill—alone—is even close to getting the job done in addressing rampant gun violence in the U.S. is wrong and would be an ineffective cop out,” Schumer said in a statement.

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