WASHINGTON -– The infamously independent Republican Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.) threw the first serious cold water on the bipartisan gun bill compromise brokered by two colleagues, calling their expanded background checks plan "unworkable."
Coburn had been courted by Democrats earlier in hopes of producing a bipartisan bill, but that fell apart. Instead, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) rolled out an offering Wednesday that extends background checks to gun shows and Internet sales, but exempts private person-to-person sales.
Many senators were non-committal on the proposal, including pro-gun Democrat Max Baucus, of Montana, who said he would not comment on it until he sees the legislative language.
But Coburn released a strong statement Wednesday afternoon, calling his colleagues' proposal "a good faith but unworkable plan."
"The proposal will impose new taxes and unreasonable burdens on law-abiding citizens," said Coburn. In the rest of his statement, Coburn singled out the private sales, saying that people will simply skip gun shows and sell their arms in other places.
“A government takeover of gun shows will open more loopholes than it closes," Coburn said. "Instead of paying a gun show tax, gun owners will simply handle those transactions elsewhere. The Manchin-Toomey proposal, unfortunately, trades a workable way to improve access the NICS database [the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System] for a system that is not workable and will be extremely difficult to pass Congress and become law.
“I entered these talks because I believe the American people want a common sense policy that respects their Second Amendment rights and freedoms while giving them the tools they need to make sure they aren’t transferring a firearm to someone who will be a threat to themselves or others," Coburn said.
He added that he will offer an amendment that, among other things, creates a "consumer portal that would facilitate access to the NICS database at not just gun shows, but for virtually all private sales."
The amendment is difficult to square with concerns Coburn has expressed about privacy for gun owners. The portal would somehow have to allow sellers access to the NICS, but create no traceable federal record.
Coburn may not be a fan of the Manchin-Toomey proposal, but at least he was willing to talk about it. The Huffington Post tracked down more than a dozen Republican and conservative Democratic senators to ask their reaction to the deal. Some literally ran away.
"You'll have to get out of here, this door will close," Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said as he stepped into an elevator. "I've got to do TV at 2 o'clock."
"I actually try to be pretty helpful with you all, but I've got a 2 p.m. meeting," said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who walked away without responding when a reporter asked to walk with him.
Others said they needed more time to review the language of the amendment. Among them: Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine).
A couple of senators were willing to stake out a position. Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) said he didn't support the proposal. But having just left lunch with GOP colleagues, he could see that they were all over the place on it.
"There's no unified voice on this issue," Boozman said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who spoke to reporters for a few seconds before disappearing into an elevator, was pretty clear about his position, too.
"Not a big fan of expanding background checks," Graham said. "I appreciate their effort. I want to go a different way. Adios."
The Senate is expected to hold its first procedural vote on the overall bill Thursday.
This article has been updated to include reaction from senators.