At least two Republican senators have signalled they may reconsider opposition to expanded national background checks for gun purchases, aides said on Monday, suggesting the push for stricter gun laws could return as a top issue in Washington in coming weeks.
The gun debate appeared to be largely abandoned on Capitol Hill after a resounding defeat in the Senate last month. But a handful of lawmakers are showing a new eagerness to engage on the issue after gun-control groups launched campaigns against senators in both parties who voted against the background check proposal.
Capitol Hill aides declined to identify the two Republicans who have approached Democrats about restarting the debate. But Senators Johnny Isakson and Jeff Flake signalled through spokesmen they would be open to debating the background-check proposal again if Democrats made changes.
Meanwhile, aides to Senator Kelly Ayotte, who voted against the background check plan, disputed TV ads critical of her vote and said she remains opposed to the current background check proposal.
Senate aides and activists pushing for stricter gun laws say there are probably two windows of opportunity for the Senate to return to gun legislation: this month after consideration of an internet taxation bill, or this northern summer after wavering senators have had time to reconsider their position. But key to the issue's success would be a new groundswell of support for stricter gun laws among the public, legislative aides and activists say. Supportive lawmakers are waiting to see whether a campaign by gun-control groups and the White House will put enough pressure on senators who voted no to reconsider.
Advocates are trying to ''make the pain of the vote so biting and so lasting that it is not politically sustainable'', said Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the group financed by New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. ''The terrain has shifted under senators' feet and I don't think they've realised it yet,'' Mr Glaze said.
At the White House, Vice-President Joe Biden met religious leaders on Monday in part of a series of recent meetings designed to keep pressure on lawmakers to expand background checks.
''We remain optimistic, the President does, that when it comes to background checks, that this will happen,'' White House press secretary Jay Carney said on Monday. ''We can't say precisely when that legislation will pass, but we and the President remain convinced it will because the American people have stated so clearly that it is a sensible thing to do.''
Conversations among senators picked up during last week's congressional recess, with Democratic senator Joe Manchin, chief architect of the bipartisan deal, once again taking the lead, aides said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Senator Manchin called him recently to say he believed there were now more votes in support of the plan.