WASHINGTON -- Ask a Senate Republican if he or she supports an assault weapons ban and you'll likely get a "no." But ask about tighter background checks -- one of a few items in President Barack Obama's gun violence package with a shot at passing Congress -- and you'll likely get a vague response about needing more information, if you get a response at all.

"Uh, I don't know what you mean," said Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who then ended the conversation by turning around and walking into a room where senators were having lunch, closing the door behind him.

"I need to have more details. I, you know, I just need -- you need to ask me after I've talked to our judiciary staff in our office," said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), also heading to the Senate lunch. "I hate to respond just in the hallway, so I won't."

"I've got -- my wife's here. I'm sorry. I've gotta -- thanks," said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).

In the days since Obama spoke to the nation about gun violence and put forward proposals to address it, lawmakers in both parties have signaled support for stricter background checks -- mostly Democrats, but some key Republicans, too -- and the White House has made the proposal a top priority. Public support for universal background checks is extremely high, possibly even at 92 percent, per a recent CBS News/New York Times poll.

The provision would require anyone selling a firearm to run a background check on the prospective buyer. Under current federal law, background checks are only required for guns sold by licensed firearm dealers, whose sales make up an estimated 60 percent of U.S. gun sales. Private dealers sell the remaining 40 percent without checks -- at gun shows, via the Internet or just between individuals.

Some Republicans said they don't support universal background checks because they don't think the government should have any more control over people's access to guns.

"Probably not," Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said when asked if he could support the proposal. "I don't want a national list of people selling guns ... My reasoning is that we have too much government as it is, and frankly, I don't believe it's the guns that are the problem. I think there are many other reasons behind the problem."

"I don't know how much tighter they could be," Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) said of background checks, brushing off a question specifically about the gun show loophole. "I'm not getting down in the weeds."

Others simply said they don't know where they are on the issue.

"I'm going to look at it," said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)

"I'm still looking at it," said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). "I have a lot of concerns about what the impact should be on private sales, which are very prevalent in Maine."

Collins added, though, that Congress is "not doing a good enough job" when it comes to one aspect of background checks: requiring states to share information with the federal background check system, particularly when it comes to information about people who have been adjudicated as mentally ill.

"That's one very commonsense change we can make that would improve the quality of the data," she said.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said the real concern isn't the need for tighter background checks but for the Justice Department to crack down on gun buyers who don't follow the law. "There are a lot of people who apparently lied on their background check who have not been investigated or prosecuted," he said.

Asked specifically about sales at gun shows, Cornyn reiterated that current law should suffice. "I think for people who are in the business of selling firearms, I'm happy to have a background check required as part of that process," he said.

The latest debate over gun laws comes in response to last month's shooting at a Connecticut elementary school and, more generally, in response to the uptick in mass shootings in recent years. Another school shooting took place on Tuesday, this time at a college campus in Texas.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) shook his head as he appeared to learn of the Texas shooting from a reporter who asked about it during a press event.

"Where is this one?" Reid asked.

Any action on gun legislation will likely start in the Senate, where Democrats hold the majority and have a greater chance of being able to pass something. Reid, who has been an ally to the National Rifle Association, said he plans to bring some kind of gun violence package to the floor -- "It may not be the bill everyone wants," he said -- as soon as it passes the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will hold its first of several hearings on gun violence next week.

"This is an issue we're not going to run from," Reid said.

Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • Funds For First Responders

    The Obama administration will call on Congress to provide additional funding to train public and private personnel at schools to respond to active shooter situations.

  • Invest In School Safety Strategies

    The Obama administration, through executive action, encourages school districts to use Comprehensive School Safety Grants to purchase school safety equipment, develop and update public safety plans, conduct threat assessments and train "crisis intervention teams" of law enforcement officers to work with the mental health community while responding and assisting students in crisis.

  • Money For Safer & Nurturing School Climates

    The Obama administration cites that with technical assistance from the Department of Education, 18,000 schools have already put evidence-based strategies to improve school climate into action. Through executive action, the administration proposes a new $50 million initiative to help 8,000 more schools train teachers and staff to implement these strategies.

  • Resources For Youth Who Witness Violence

    To help schools break the cycle of violence, the administration will urge Congress to provide $25 million to offer students mental health services for trauma or anxiety, conflict resolution programs and other school-based violence prevention initiatives.

  • Incentives For Schools To Hire Resource Officers

    Under Obama's executive action, the Department of Justice will provide an incentive for police departments that hire officers through COPS Hiring Grants by providing a preference for grant applications that support school resource officers.

  • Close Background Check Loopholes

    The Department of Justice will invest $20 million in FY2013 to give states stronger incentives to share information with the background check system. President Obama signed executive action requiring federal agencies to make crucial records available to the background check system and also to ensure that such records are frequently updated.

  • Boost Gun Owner Accountability & Responsibility

    President Obama signed an executive action reaffirming his respect for the Second Amendment, but acknowledging that the right to bear arms comes with a responsibility to safely store guns to prevent them from being accidentally or intentionally used to harm others.

  • Serious Punishment For Gun Trafficking

    Today, guns can be purchased easily from unlicensed dealers or from "straw purchasers" who pass the required background check, but give the guns to criminals. The Obama administration will include an explicit law against straw purchasing and others who traffic guns, including prosecutions for paperwork violations.

  • 15,000 Cops On The Street

    The Obama administration recognizes that it is crucial to keep more officers within communities and neighborhoods in order to prevent gun violence. The president calls on Congress to put forth a $4 billion proposal to help keep 15,000 police officers on the streets across the country.

  • Assault Weapons Ban

    The federal assault weapons ban that was in place from 1994 to 2004 was a first step, but President Obama acknowledged that manufacturers were able to circumvent the prohibition with cosmetic modifications to their weapons. Obama is pressing Congress to introduce legislation reinstating and expanding the ban to include all assault weapons.

  • High-Capacity Magazine Ban

    President Obama will urge Congress to reinstate the prohibition on ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds. Shooters at Virginia Tech, Tucson, Ariz., Aurora, Colo., Oak Creek, Wis. and Newtown, Conn. all used magazines that had a capacity of more than 10 rounds, which come standard with many handguns and rifles.

  • Remove ATF Restrictions

    The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) is required to authorize the importation of dangerous antique weapons that are at least 50 years old. Obama will press Congress to remove restrictions and enable the ATF to ensure that incoming weapons are actually acquired as collectibles and not for putting the weapons in the wrong hands.

  • Broader Access To Reports On Lost & Stolen Guns

    Under Obama's executive action, the Department of Justice plans to publish an annual report on lost and stolen guns to ensure data collected by the ATF is available.

  • Protect Doctors Who Talk About Guns

    Some have erroneously claimed that language in the Affordable Care Act prohibits doctors from asking patients about guns and gun safety. According to Obama's executive action, the administration will issue guidance clarifying this misconception and reiterating the importance of protecting doctors who have discussions on safe storage of firearms, especially if their patients show signs of certain mental illnesses, have young children or have a mentally ill family member at home.

  • Promote Responsible Gun Ownership

    As declared by Obama's executive action, the administration will encourage gun owners to take responsibility for keeping their guns safe through a national campaign promoting common-sense gun safety measures.

  • Enhance Gun Tracing Data

    Law enforcement can trace a gun's path from it's manufacturer, the dealer who sold it and its first purchaser. However, not all federal law enforcement agencies require a trace on guns they recover and keep in custody. President Obama signed executive action requiring a trace on <em>all</em> firearms.

  • Promote Safe Gun Safety Technology

    The president is directing the attorney general through executive action to work with technology experts to review emerging gun safety technology that helps guard against unauthorized access and use.

  • $150 Million For In-School Resources

    The Obama administration is urging Congress to take up a Comprehensive School Safety program that will offer $150 million to school districts and law enforcement agencies to hire resource officers, school psychologists, social workers and counselors. The Department of Justice will also develop a model for schools that use resource officers, including age-appropriate methods for working with students.

  • Change School Discipline Practices

    Students who are suspended or expelled are far more likely to repeat a grade, not graduate or become involved in the juvenile justice system. The Obama administration believes effective school discipline policies are critical to addressing school and community crime and violence issues. Under Obama's executive action, the Department of Education will collect and execute best practices on school discipline policies and help schools implement these policies.

  • Mental Health Treatment For Youth

    Through partnerships such as the newly proposed Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education), President Obama is urging Congress to take up a comprehensive plan to reach 750,000 young people through programs for early detection of mental illness and swift treatment. Project AWARE includes $15 million for training teachers and other adults who interact with youth to detect and respond to mental illness.

  • Clarify Mental Health Coverage In Private Insurance Plans

    By executive action, Obama announced a plan to finalize regulations that would require group health plans offering mental health care to cover such services at parity under the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. Additionally, the Affordable Care Act requires all new small group and individual plans to cover mental health and substance abuse services.

  • Mental Health Coverage For Medicaid Recipients

    There is some evidence that Medicaid plans do not always meeting mental health parity requirements. In an executive action, the Obama administration issued a letter to state health officials insisting that these plans must comply with mental health parity requirements.