WASHINGTON (AP) - Senate gun control supporters struggled Tuesday to salvage their drive to expand background checks to more buyers, buoyed by a visit from wounded former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords but facing enough potential opponents to derail their endeavor unless they can figure out how to win more votes.
No. 2 Democratic leader Richard Durbin of Illinois, his party's chief vote counter, left a lunch of Democratic senators saying they would need support from nine or 10 Republicans - a tall order. Subjecting more firearms transactions to the background checks now is the main thrust of the gun control effort launched after December's Newtown, Conn., shootings.
Attending Tuesday's Senate lunch was Giffords, the Arizona Democrat severely hurt in a 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly. The two, both gun owners, have started a political committee that backs candidates who favor gun restrictions.
"His message was, "We've been through this,'" Durbin said, describing Kelly's remarks to the lawmakers. ""We're ready to fight back to stand up for those who have the courage to vote for gun safety.'"
Giffords did not address the lawmakers.
In a blow to gun control advocates, Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., became the latest Republican to say he will oppose a bipartisan compromise broadening background checks.
"I believe that this legislation could lead to the creation of a national gun registry and puts additional burdens on law-abiding citizens," he said.
Before the lunch, Giffords and Kelly met privately with Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Patrick Toomey, R-Pa. The two senators have written compromise legislation that would expand background checks to cover gun shows and the Internet, a plan gun control supporters think gives them the best chance of pushing a broader system of checks than the current one through the Senate.
Though the Senate has been debating a broader gun bill for days, it remained unclear when votes on the Manchin-Toomey plan or other amendments would begin. Democrats were hoping roll calls could start as early as Wednesday, with the two senators' proposal generally seen as the first vote.
Besides the Manchin-Toomey proposal, Democrats were ready to offer other amendments - likely to lose - banning military-style assault weapons and ammunition magazines capable of carrying more than 10 rounds. Authorities have said both were used in the Newtown rampage.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate GOP leader, said he was working on an amendment requiring states to recognize each other's permits for carrying concealed weapons.
Using procedural moves, opponents would need just 41 of the Senate's 100 votes to derail the Manchin-Toomey background check plan.
Thirty-one senators voted last week to completely block debate on overall gun legislation. Just two were Democrats - Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska.
If all 31 vote against the Manchin-Toomey measure - which is not certain - opponents will need just 10 more votes to prevail.