WASHINGTON -- There aren't many Republican lawmakers publicly endorsing the idea of passing bills targeting gun violence, but Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) says he's talked to plenty of them in private who say they're ready to vote for measures that would restrict certain people's access to guns.
Thompson, who is chairing the newly formed House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, said he's met "with every imaginable community of interest" on the issue of gun violence in recent weeks -- including House Republicans -- and pointed to several gun measures that have quiet bipartisan support.
Bills that could move through the House "will be, for lack of a better term, the easier ones: background checks, enhanced prosecutions, mental health," Thompson said during a Monday panel on gun violence, hosted by the Center for American Progress.
"We need to do so much more with regard to mental health," he added. "There will be a lot of Republicans who support that. So I feel pretty confident that we can find some middle ground on some of these issues."
At least two conservative Republican lawmakers have already signaled they could support some type of gun control. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said last week that he may be open to restricting the size of magazines. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) said he, too, would be open to changes to high-capacity gun magazines, along with better background checks.
Thompson is one of 12 House Democrats meeting with Vice President Joe Biden on Monday to discuss gun violence, an issue that has taken center stage since last month's shootings at a Newtown, Conn. elementary school. Biden is leading the White House effort on the issue and has been soliciting proposals from various interest groups over the past few weeks. He is expected to present President Barack Obama with his recommendations on Tuesday.
Thompson told reporters that he is "very optimistic" that the House can muster up the votes to pass certain gun bills, despite the fact that lawmakers in both parties will face tremendous pressure from the National Rifle Association, which is strongly opposed to any legislation that affects gun rights.
"They're going to have to get there how they have to get there," Thompson said of Republicans who will have to defend votes for gun measures. "But I believe there are a number of them who we'll have agreement with on some parts of this sum."
Some gun proposals face a tougher climb in Congress, namely a renewed assault weapons ban. But Thompson was optimistic that progress can be made by focusing on areas where there is common interest. Asked if he thinks the House has the votes right now to pass a bill to tighten background checks on gun owners, Thompson said that bill would be "a great first step" and predicted that "eventually a bill to strengthen background checks will pass."
Even if Congress only passed a bill that enhanced background checks and prevented people with mental health problems from owning firearms, "You've accomplished quite a bit," he added.