Two US senators have announced they have struck a bipartisan deal on expanding background checks to more firearms purchases, an agreement that could build support for president Barack Obama's drive to curb gun violence.
Democratic senator Joe Manchin and Republican senator Pat Toomey announced the pact Wednesday. The agreement between two of the most conservative members of each party was expected to make it even likelier that the Senate's initial vote Thursday to begin debating gun legislation will succeed, despite an effort by conservatives to block consideration of the measure.
Subjecting more firearms purchases to federal background checks has been the chief goal of Obama and gun control supporters, who promote the system as a way to prevent criminals and other potentially dangerous people from getting weapons.
Still, two major provisions in Obama's original gun control package – a ban on sales of military-style assault weapons and a limit on the size of ammunition magazines - are not even being discussed any more since they have no hope of being passed.
The deal would expand the checks to cover all commercial sales, such as at gun shows and online. Private transactions that are not for profit, such as those between relatives, would be exempt. Currently, the system only covers sales through licensed gun dealers.
Obama said he wished parts of the bill were stronger but that it represents significant progress and if enacted would make it harder for dangerous people to obtain guns.
The background check deal was a boost for firearms restrictions in the wake of December's shooting that killed 20 small children and six staffers at an elementary school in Connecticut.
The overall gun bill also tightens federal laws against illegal gun sales and slightly increases federal aid for school safety.
Any gun control measure would be a plus for Obama as he tries in his second term to build a legacy. Other measures he is working on include an immigration bill and a budget deal that will keep the US from repeatedly lurching to financial crises.
Meanwhile, the Senate is ready for an opening vote on restricting guns as majority leader Harry Reid set a roll call vote for Thursday on starting consideration of the firearms legislation.
The background check deal makes it even likelier that Democrats will win enough Republican support to thwart an effort by conservatives and minority leader Mitch McConnell to block consideration from even starting.
The administration was continuing its effort to pressure Congress on gun control on Wednesday as first lady Michelle Obama planned to visit a Chicago high school where authorities say 29 current or former students have been shot in the past year. Eight of them died.
The ultimate fare of gun legislation remains unclear, clouded by opposition from many Republicans and moderate Democrats in the Democratic led-Senate and Republican-run House. Many critics say the proposal would violate the US Constitutional right to bear arms and burden law-abiding gun owners.
Amid the maneuvering, relations of some of the Connecticut school shooting victims are lobbying to support gun curbs and Obama has been calling senators from both parties to push for the gun bill.
The National Rifle Association, the country's most powerful gun advocacy group, opposes Obama's effort and is urging its members - it claims nearly 5 million - to tell lawmakers of their opposition.
Counteracting that has been an effort by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, one of whose leaders is billionaire New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The group said it will keep track of key gun-related congressional roll call votes and make the information available to voters and contributors, a tactic long used by the NRA and other groups.
In Connecticut on Wednesday, Bristol-based gunmaker PTR said in a statement on its website that it intends to leave the state after the governor signed into law new restrictions on weapons and large capacity magazines.