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Two top Democrats want support from at least 10 Republicans for gun background check bill

Two top Senate Democrats are weighing whether gun reform can be a long shot issue proving they can work with Republicans — and don't have to scrap the filibuster after all.

What we're hearing: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) have been privately negotiating how to revise H.R. 8, the House Democrats' background checks bill, to gain support from at least 10 Republicans.

  • As of now, Republicans say the bill is a "nonstarter," since it goes too far to limit gun rights. But GOP lawmakers are increasingly accepting universal background checks for commercial firearms sales and other provisions laid out in the 2013 bill, co-sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).
  • The politics around background checks also have changed dramatically since 2013, top Democrats point out, as two-thirds of Americans support tougher gun laws.
  • This is the sweet spot they're looking at, sources familiar with the talks tell Axios.

Why it matters: Democrats think it's now or never to finally find bipartisan compromise on gun reform.

  • They have a president who ran point on this issue as vice president following the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 and cares deeply about it.
  • They also control both chambers of Congress, and the country is reeling after two deadly mass shootings in two weeks.
  • That said, it may not be enough: Gun control has consistently been an issue in which lawmakers in both parties have tried, and failed, to pass meaningful legislation.

What they're saying: "I think that Republicans have to argue, as a means of defending the current rules, that the Senate can still work under the 60-vote requirement," Murphy said Sunday on "Meet the Press."

  • "I think Republicans may be looking for issues to prove that Democrats don't need to obliterate the filibuster. Here's their opportunity: an issue which has 90 percent support, which doesn't require them to shift their position."
  • "I've gotten a lot of calls from Republicans in the Senate who don't want to fight this fight any longer," Murphy added.
  • "This time feels different. Almost the dawn of a different era," Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who also is taking a lead role in gun reform talks, told Axios. "There is such a powerful grassroots movement and political momentum as a result of all of the groups and advocates and activists, survivors, victims, who've come together in a very powerful way."

But, but, but: Many Democrats also fear this effort, like those preceding it, will be futile and lose momentum as the White House shifts the conversation toward other priorities, including infrastructure and any tax increases to pay for it.

  • One senior Democratic aide pointed out the issue barely came up on the Sunday shows today, apart from Murphy's interview on "Meet the Press."
  • It also doesn't help that the Senate broke Thursday afternoon for a two-week recess.

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