Bipartisan Senate talks on expanded gun background checks break down

WASHINGTON — Bipartisan negotiations seeking a narrow deal on expanding background checks for gun purchases have fallen apart, according to lawmakers involved in the talks.

Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., were once hopeful they could find an agreement but the two senators haven’t spoken in a couple of weeks, Cornyn told NBC News on Wednesday.

“He knows I’m available and I know he’s available if somebody’s got a new idea,” Cornyn said. “I don’t think that there’s a lack of goodwill. It’s just a hard issue where the country is so divided.”

Murphy echoed Cornyn.

“I have been very open to compromise and I think Senator Cornyn was negotiating in good faith. But we haven’t been able to get to a bill that would meaningfully increase the number of gun sales that require background checks,” said Murphy said in a statement. “The good news is that I’m still talking with other Republican colleagues about different proposals to expand background checks, and I’m committed to getting something done.”

The two senators tried to expand the universe of gun purchases that need background checks by tweaking the language of the existing law instead of instituting universal background checks. It would have required checks for more dealers, seemingly closing some existing loopholes without upsetting gun control opponents.

Cornyn admitted unlicensed dealers are a “big gap in the system,” but he said the two senators couldn’t agree on how to define people who are in the business of selling firearms.

“Basically what I’m trying to do is distinguish from the hobbyist or informal family-to-family sales. I don’t want to include those,” Cornyn said. “But I am willing to include anybody who’s essentially in the business of selling the firearms.”

“We broke down, at least temporarily,” Cornyn said. “I’m not giving up.”

The two started negotiating after a series of mass shootings in March. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., signaled that the Senate will vote on gun legislation, perhaps the universal background check measure passed by the House, absent agreement with Republicans.

Leigh Ann Caldwell

Leigh Ann Caldwell is an NBC News correspondent.

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