Thursday, June 13, 2013 | 1:48 p.m.
WASHINGTON — As Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval on Thursday vetoed a state bill to require background checks for all firearm purchases, Nevada Sen. Harry Reid was trying to breathe new life into stalled congressional negotiations to revive gun control at the federal level.
“I’m here to tell you that we’re not going to give up the fight,” Reid said at a gathering of the families from Newtown, Conn., who lost children and loved ones in a mass school shooting in December that claimed 26 lives. “Don’t give up. We’re not going to give up.”
Legislation to require background checks at gun shows and online suffered a fairly decisive blow in April, when the Senate failed to muster enough votes to clear a filibuster threat.
Now, exactly six months after the Newtown shooting, the coalition to pass background checks is scrambling to edit its proposal in a way that will allow the bill to pass without compromising the objectives of the legislation.
“I will not accept a watered-down version of the bill,” Reid declared Thursday. “The writing is on the wall: For the Republicans who voted against this, the writing is on the wall, and the Democrats who voted against this, the handful that voted against this.”
But when asked what might look different in a second iteration of the bill — or short of that, which lawmakers, might be expected to vote differently a second time around — Reid was thin on the details.
“We have been doing well with more than one Republican, a couple,” he replied vaguely.
Reid stiffened at a question about whether he had any hopes of turning Democrats who had voted no.
“We lost four out of 55 [Democrats]...so focus on the Republicans,” Reid said.
For Reid, once an avid defender of the National Rifle Association, the gun control debate has clearly become personal.
He spoke of his father, who “killed himself with a pistol,” and of the responsibility of those who have lost relatives to a gun to make sure the memory of tragedy stays fresh in the minds of the country.
“Sometimes, people have very, very short memories...We have to remember what took place in Connecticut at that little elementary school and can never keep those names out of our minds,” Reid said. “You are the key to our getting something done because the American people identify with what happened at that little elementary school in Connecticut.”
But in the United States, gun policy doesn’t just depend on the politics of compassion.
National advocates for gun control spent the last few days rallying around the Nevada Legislature’s bill to expand background checks to almost all private gun sales, a measure whose narrow passage was the result of some concerted soul-searching on the part of many supporters.
Sandoval’s veto sounded much like the complaint that many opponents to the congressional background check bill raised at the federal level: He argued that it “imposes unreasonable burdens and harsh penalties upon law-abiding Nevadans, while doing little to prevent criminals from unlawfully obtaining firearms.”
The decision makes Sandoval the first governor to have vetoed a gun control effort since the tragedy at Sandy Hook.
It is also a reminder that, despite efforts to revive the debate on Capitol Hill, the political challenges of passing gun control legislation have not changed much since Congress’s last attempt.
“I’m hard pressed to find another issue where 90 percent of the American people think it’s the right thing to do,” Reid said Thursday, expressing frustration with the situation. “This is the issue.”