05/07/2013 12:08 pm ET Updated May 07, 2013

Jeff Flake May Support Gun Background Checks With Changes To Internet Sales Provision

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said Tuesday that he could support tighter background checks on gun sales -- something he declined to do last month -- if the senators pushing the proposal change its provision dealing with Internet sales. But it remains to be seen whether his complaints about the provision have merit.

In an interview with CNN's Dana Bash, Flake said the only reason he voted against the background checks bill sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) was because he thought it would be too costly and inconvenient to require checks on Internet sales. Flake said that under the proposal, it would be "considered a commercial sale" if a gun owner sent friends a text message or an email, or posted on Facebook, asking if they wanted to buy a gun. That could make things difficult for people in rural areas, he said.

It's unclear, however, whether Flake's complaints are valid. The Manchin-Toomey bill already makes clear that background checks wouldn't be required for gun sales between family members and friends. While it doesn't specifically address text messages, emails or Facebook posts, according to its language, background checks would only be required for Internet gun sales when they involve "an advertisement, posting, display, or other listing."

Nothing in this subtitle, or an amendment made by this subtitle, shall be construed-
(1) to extend background check requirements to transfers other than those made at gun shows or on the curtilage thereof, or pursuant to an advertisement, posting, display, or other listing on the Internet or in a publication by the transferor of the intent of the transferor to transfer, or the transferee of the intent of the transferee to acquire, the firearm; or
(2) to extend background check requirements to temporary transfers for purposes including lawful hunting or sporting or to temporary possession of a firearm for purposes of examination or evaluation by a prospective transferee.

It would be a very generous reading of the bill to conclude that background checks apply to texts and emails. Whether a Facebook post between friends involving the sale of a gun would require a background check is uncertain. Requests for comment from Manchin's and Toomey's offices were not returned.

That said, Flake's comments do open the door to his reversal on the bill, so long as certain changes are made. He tweeted Tuesday morning that he does support the idea of background checks, just not the Manchin-Toomey bill in its current form. "Cutting thru clutter, I've always supported background checks. I didn't support Manchin-Toomey, and still don't. I voted for Grassley amdt," he wrote.

The Arizona senator conceded to CNN that Manchin, who is now looking for five senators to change their votes from "no" to "yes" on his bill in order to reach the 60 votes needed to overcome a GOP filibuster, may not be able to change the bill's language to meet his needs. But he said he's hopeful something can be worked out.

Flake has taken some hits since his vote. Americans for Responsible Solutions, the gun control PAC run by Flake's close friend and former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.), is vowing to run ads against him, and a recent survey ranked him the most unpopular senator in the country. Flake said the poll result puts him somewhere "below pond scum" and attributed his low numbers to his background checks vote.

Still, he told CNN he got some positive feedback after the vote, as well.

"I'm comfortable with where I am, pond scum or not," he said.



Senators Who Voted NO On Background Checks