WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration and Senate Republicans remain at loggerheads over proposals to tighten gun control after December's horrific school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
The White House Tuesday continued its impassioned call for universal background checks while 14 Senate Republicans renewed their threat to filibuster and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, brought a bill to the floor saying lawmakers owed it to the Connecticut victims to vote on legislation.
Sixty votes are needed to override the filibuster attempt, and Democrats hold only 51 of the chamber's 100 seats.
Vice President Joe Biden expressed incredulity that Republicans would block a vote on background checks, which gained more public support after a series of recent mass shootings in Connecticut, Wisconsin and Colorado.
"These folks who are trying to stop any action are in a time warp. ... This issue has moved beyond where it was five, 10, even three years ago," the vice president told 150 law enforcement officers from around the country who gathered in Washington Tuesday to advocate for gun control.
Pittsburgh acting police Chief Regina McDonald was among them.
She said she made the trip to show her support for universal background checks.
"We're not looking for a compromise on that. We want background checks for everyone who purchases a gun," Chief McDonald said before the vice president addressed the officers in a small auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in the White House complex.
The talk came a few hours after Mr. Biden hosted a breakfast at his home in the Naval Observatory with members of Newtown victims' families.
Numerous gun control bills are circulating on Capitol Hill, including one being crafted by Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey and conservative West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin, both pro-gun senators who have recently indicated they could support a limited expansion of mandatory background checks for gun purchasers.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Toomey said the senators were close to a deal Tuesday night and might release details of their proposal as soon as this morning.
The plan is likely to include a punitive measure to withhold Byrne Judicial Assistance Grants from states that don't comply with federal gun laws, said a source familiar with the negotiations. The grants fund drug courts, gang task forces, crime prevention, addiction treatment and more.
That provision seems to be in response to pre-emptive legislation introduced in several states, including Pennsylvania, that seek to prohibit enforcement of any new federal gun control measures.
Meanwhile, in the White House complex, the vice president delivered an emotional plea invoking images of Newtown families who left the naval base on a warm spring morning to see two soccer balls on the lawn where his grandchildren play.
"You know what [one] dad was saying? 'This is not a beautiful day. This just brings back every single bit of pain,' " Mr. Biden said.
Earlier, he had listened to a mother tell him how her daughter was shot through the heart as she tried to hide in a school bathroom.
"What are you going to say to those parents? Look them in the eye and tell them there's nothing you can do?" Mr. Biden said. "What has to happen to break through the consciousness of people up on the Hill?"
Republican threats to filibuster are mind-boggling, said the vice president and Scranton native.
The Newtown families "don't understand how we could even be, at this point, debating this," Mr. Biden said. "The truth is, they don't see how 100 bright women and men don't get it."
Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah are leading the filibuster effort. At least 12 other Senate Republicans are on board, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
The group on Monday sent a letter to Mr. Reid saying they intend "to oppose any legislation that would infringe on the American people's constitutional right to bear arms, or on their ability to exercise this right without being subject to government surveillance."
Mr. Biden said such concerns are unfounded because records of background checks are destroyed within 24 hours and because no government records are created of whether a gun sale was actually completed.
"No way that Uncle Sam can go find out whether you own a gun because we're about to really take away all your rights and you're not going to be able to defend yourself and we're going to swoop down with special forces and gather up every gun in America. It's bizarre but that's what's being sold out there," Mr. Biden told law enforcement officers Tuesday.
Meanwhile, gun rights activists have been flooding Capitol offices with phone calls and email messages expressing concerns that background checks could lead to a national gun registry and that efforts to outlaw large-capacity magazines could lead to future laws even further limiting capacity.
One form letter being sent by NRA members asks lawmakers to oppose "universal background checks, which would criminalize the private transfer of firearms or any legislation that would arbitrarily limit ammunition magazines or reinstate the failed ban on commonly owned semiautomatic rifles."
Such measures would harm law-abiding gun owners without reducing crime, according to the form letter.
Mr. Biden, though, said the current background check system has prevented 2 million felons, perpetrators of domestic abuse and mentally incompetent people from buying guns. The problem, he said, is that only 60 percent of gun purchasers buy their guns from licensed dealers, who are required to check backgrounds. Sales at gun shows, over the Internet or between private sellers aren't subject to background checks under current law.
Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: firstname.lastname@example.org, 1-703-996-9292 or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets. First Published April 10, 2013 4:00 AM