Would a Senate gun-control bill die in the House?

Gun-control advocates are upbeat over a background-check deal from two NRA-backed senators. But....

House Speaker John Boehner has been studiously non-committal on the proposed gun legislation.
(Image credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Advocates for tougher gun laws had a rare moment of optimism on Wednesday, as a threatened Republican filibuster on any gun-control legislation appeared to fall apart, and two senators with A ratings from the National Rifle Association unveiled a compromise deal on expanding background checks to gun shows and internet sales.

"Yes, there's a long, long way to go," says Greg Sargent at The Washington Post, but having two gun-state senators — Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) — "jointly calling for real action on guns, and describing it as a moral imperative on behalf of our children," is "cause for cautious optimism."

The Manchin-Toomey deal will be added to gun-control legislation that will get its first big test on Thursday, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) brings the bill to the floor for debate. But even if the GOP effort to block debate fizzles, as expected, and at least 60 senators agree to a final vote, the bill would still have to pass in the Republican-controlled House for it to become law.

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House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is studiously noncommittal, saying only that the House will "review whatever the Senate might pass." On background checks specifically, "It's one thing for two members to come to some agreement," he adds, but "it doesn't substitute the will of the other 98 members, and so we'll wait and see what the Senate does."

That's a worrisome sign for the gun-control side, says NBC's First Read team.

As we've seen in the past (with the fiscal-cliff deal and Hurricane Sandy relief), the only way House GOP leaders will most likely bring it to the floor is if it gets a large number of Senate votes in final passage, and by large number we mean more than 70 votes. It's one thing for the president and the Newtown families to pull off a "shame the Senate" campaign into a vote; pulling it off in the House will be a trickier and harder task. [NBC]

For what it's worth, Toomey is optimistic about the House. "I know there are a substantial number of House Republicans that are supportive of this general approach," he said. And "if you think Boehner won't bring a bill to the floor that's opposed by a majority of Republicans," says Allahpundit at Hot Air, you haven't been paying attention.

Even with the NRA opposing the bill, and vowing to give demerits to any lawmaker who supports it, says Allahpundit, "I think it's got a shot, partly because the polling on background checks will spook Republicans before the midterm and partly because the GOP will want to deny Obama an easy talking point that they obstructed every last effort to keep guns out of the hands of nuts." But Republicans aren't Obama's big problem: Vulnerable red-state Democrats are the real threat.

Right, forget the House — Democrats still have to get this out of the Senate in one piece, say Chris Cillizza and Paul Kane at The Washington Post. When Reid brings the bill to the Senate floor, Republicans will unleash a barrage of "NRA-backed amendments that only need 51 votes to approve," a Democratic operative tells the Post, turning the bill into "a nightmare for Democrats that care about these issues."

If recent history is a guide, plenty of Senate Democrats are willing to back NRA-approved legislation, say Cillizza and Kane.

Given that math, it's easier to imagine amendments favored by gun-rights advocates generating the 51 votes needed to be added to the main legislation than amendments on things like renewing the assault-weapons ban or limiting (or outright banning) high capacity magazines.... So, yes, the bipartisan deal on background checks, which is expected to be the first amendment offered to the overall gun bill, is a victory for those who want stricter gun laws. But, the amendment process has the potential to turn into something far different than gun control advocates imagine — and something that would almost certainly doom the legislation. [Washington Post]

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.