WASHINGTON -- Two influential senators, one from each party, are working on an agreement that could expand background checks on firearms sales to include gun shows and online transactions, Senate aides said Sunday.
If completed, the effort could represent a major breakthrough in the effort by President Barack Obama and his allies to restrict guns following last December's massacre of schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn.
Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., could nail down an accord early this week, said the aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the private talks. With the Senate returning Monday from a two-week recess, the chamber's debate on gun control legislation could begin as soon as Tuesday, though it might be delayed if the lawmakers need more time to complete a deal, the aides said.
The potential deal, which aides cautioned still might change, would exempt transactions between relatives and temporary transfers for hunters and sportsmen, they said.
Manchin is a moderate who touts an A rating from the National Rifle Association, which has opposed Obama's gun control drive. Toomey has solid conservative credentials and was elected to the Senate two years ago with tea party support from his Democratic-leaning state.
A united front by the two lawmakers would make it easier for gun control advocates to attract support from moderate Democrats who have been wary of supporting the effort and from Republicans who have largely opposed it so far.
With conservative Republicans threatening a filibuster, Democrats will need 60 of the chamber's 100 votes to prevail. There are 53 Democrats and two Democratic-leaning independents in the Senate.
Federal background checks are currently required only for transactions handled by the roughly 55,000 federally licensed firearms dealers; private sales such as gun-show or online purchases are exempt. The system is designed to keep guns from criminals, people with serious mental problems, and some others.
After 20 first-graders and six elementary school staffers were killed at Newtown, Obama proposed applying the requirement to virtually all firearms sales. Gun control advocates consider expanded background checks to be the most effective step lawmakers could take to curb gun violence.
Today, Obama travels to Connecticut to again make the case for gun legislation, with a speech at the University of Hartford.