Senate Democrats have been eager to blame the GOP for stalled gun control legislation, but their own party lawmakers may ultimately block it.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has pledged to take up two House-passed bills to expand and enhance background check legislation but has yet to put them on the schedule.
The 60-vote threshold means at least 10 Republicans would have to vote for the bill unless Democrats get rid of the filibuster. Even with Republicans no longer an obstacle, Democrats would still lack the votes in their own party to pass the legislation.
Centrists led by Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia believe the language in the House bill barring transfers between friends and families goes too far and want broader carve-outs than are provided in the bill.
Senate Republicans are keenly aware of the hesitancy among key Democrats, and some are eager to cut a deal on a more bipartisan bill.
"The bill that passed the House that doesn't even have 50 votes in the Senate," Sen. Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, told Meet the Press. "So, there are not even 50 votes. You could get rid of the filibuster tomorrow, and you still couldn't pass that bill."
Manchin and Toomey are the authors of 2013 bipartisan language requiring background checks on commercial gun sales. The measure would exclude gun transfers between family and friends and would codify some provisions establishing gun ownership rights.
The bill would likely earn some Republican support, but the liberal Democratic factions in the House and Senate, which blocked it in the past, are poised to reject it again.
The result is likely to be a continuation of the legislative stalemate on gun control legislation that has persisted for decades in Congress.
"We want to pass the strongest bill that can pass," said Schumer, a New York Democrat.
Schumer will meet with Connecticut Democratic Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal and "figure out how to go," he said.
The Connecticut Democrats have been among the top Senate advocates for gun control legislation since the Sandy Hook mass shooting.
Murphy seemed less inclined to negotiate with Manchin and Toomey on the legislation but acknowledged he may have no choice.
"I'm a bit loath to compromise on a bill that is so wildly popular," Murphy said, referring to the House-passed background check legislation. "But I obviously would love as big a vote as we can get, and for the time being, we need 60 votes. So, I've been in conversations today with Republicans and Democrats … about what we can do to win the biggest number, of what is possible."
Manchin is not the only Democrat from a pro-gun state who would likely stand in the way of measures the party believes are needed to curb gun violence.
Sen. Jon Tester of Montana said he has concerns about the gun transfer ban in the House-passed background check legislation.
Tester is also likely to oppose legislation that would reinstate a ban on assault-style weapons, including the AR-15 that was used in the Boulder grocery store mass shooting that left 10 people dead. The measure would also ban high-capacity magazines and other types of ammunition.
Last week, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and sponsor of the bill, asked Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Durbin to call a hearing on the bill while the panel listened to witnesses testify about how to resolve gun violence in America.
"I really hope we can do something about it," Feinstein, a senior member of the panel, said. "I have 35 co-sponsors on a renewed assault weapons ban that's in this committee. And I would hope we could hold a hearing and, perhaps, consider that legislation."
Tester is up for reelection in 2024. Montana has been expanding gun owner rights under Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte, including a new law allowing residents to carry concealed firearms in public places without requiring a permit.
"The real effect here is that Jon Tester's party is out of step with Montanans and their desire to protect their right to bear arms," Aidan Johnson, director of federal affairs for Gun Owners of America, told the Washington Examiner.
Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, later said he was not aware of Feinstein's request.
At a press conference last week, Schumer and Durbin made no promises to take up Feinstein's measure even though the window for passing such a bill is narrow and available only while the House, Senate, and White House are controlled by Democrats.
The background check legislation is popular, they said, and taking up legislation to ban certain firearms would slow it down.
"I think it's time that we go on the record for some of these commonsense, constitutional responses," Durbin said.
A Morning Consult/Politico survey earlier this month found 84% of voters support background checks for all firearm purchases.
The poll did not ask about requiring background checks for most gun transfers, which Republicans and centrist Democrats want to modify in the House measure.
The data suggests gun legislation remains politically perilous for Democrats. Voters who responded to the Morning Consult/Politico survey gave the party a mere 6-point advantage over the GOP when it comes to whom they trust to handle gun policy, compared to a 25-point advantage on handling COVID-19 and 31 points on climate change.
In addition, only 28% of voters said Congress should prioritize passing legislation placing additional restrictions on gun ownership, compared to 64% who say Congress should focus on stimulating the economy and 45% who want lawmakers to pass a healthcare reform bill.
The survey was taken between March 6-8, before the latest mass shootings in Boulder and Atlanta.
"We're going to figure out the best path forward," Schumer pledged last week. "But we will put these bills on the floor. I have said that. And it will happen."
Toomey said he's ready to help craft a bipartisan bill, even if it means changing the language in the Toomey-Manchin measure to bring in more Democrats.
"I want to find something that can pass, and that probably would require something that's a little bit different," Toomey told reporters. "So, we'll see if we can figure out how to thread that needle."