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Gun background database may finally get a boost

Have we finally found a bipartisan gun bill that can pass in a Republican Congress? Maybe.
Man holds a gun in the exhibit hall of the George R. Brown Convention Center, the site for the NRA's annual meeting in Houston, Texas
A man holds a gun in the exhibit hall of the George R. Brown Convention Center, the site for the National Rifle Association's (NRA) annual meeting in Houston, Texas on May 3, 2013.

Given the nation's deep political divisions, it's rare to see a public consensus emerge on hot-button controversies. It's what makes results like these so amazing.

In the wake of another massacre, American voters today support 95 - 4 percent, including 94 - 5 percent among voters in households where there is a gun, universal background checks for gun purchases, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today.This is the highest level of support for universal background checks since the independent Quinnipiac University Poll first asked this question in February 2013, in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre.

I honestly can't think of any other issue, in an area of public life, on which 95% of Americans agree.

The same poll found 60% of Americans support stricter gun laws in general, 65% back a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons, 74% support a ban on bump-stock gun modifications, and 91% are on board with banning the sale of guns to people convicted of a violent crime.

This is very much in line with other  recent national polls, each of which found increased support for new measures intended to address gun violence.

The University of Virginia's Larry Sabato, a prominent political scientist, responded to the Quinnipiac results by marveling at the "near-unanimity" on universal background checks. He lamented, however, the "crickets in D.C."

That's an understandable sentiment, to be sure, though in this case, Capitol Hill isn't offering complete silence.

Politico reported overnight that Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) are partnering on a new gun measure intended to improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, and their bill appears to have a chance.

Their plan is twofold, according to two sources familiar with it: One is to incentivize states to send more information about criminal histories to the system, known as NICS. States usually aren't required to do so, unless their own laws mandate it or they have to do so to receive federal funding.

It would also make sure that federal agencies follow through on their own requirement that they send information to the database. The new plan would beef up the federal mandate and include punishments for agencies that don't comply, according to one of the sources.

According to a press statement this morning, they'll be joined in this endeavor by Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).

It's a very narrow proposal, much of which is intended to improve implementation of the status quo, but with that bipartisan lineup -- which includes a member of the Senate GOP leadership -- it might actually have a legitimate chance of passing the chamber.

And what about the Republican-led House? It's very early in the process, but I'm reminded of a recent quote from Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), when he was asked about Congress passing bump-stock legislation, that appeared to enjoy broad support.

"It's the height of irony if we don't repeal Obamacare, we don't cut taxes, but we do implement more gun control," Massie said. "That's a perversion of the GOP agenda."

Now, the Kentucky Republican wasn't referring to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, and for all I know, he may support the bipartisan bill. But Massie's recent comments are a reminder that when it comes to this Congress, the merits and popularity of gun measures sometimes have no relevance to their prospects.