FAIRBANKS-Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski said Thursday she is willing to consider a bipartisan proposal to expand background checks on gun purchases but that she has expressed some concerns to the two senators writing the legislation.
"I do think that most Alaskans, most Americans, would say ‘Look, if there's a way we can keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill people and convicted felons, then that's not unreasonable, that's not a limitation on my Second Amendment rights,'" she said in a telephone interview with the News-Miner.
The proposal by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., would expand the requirement for a pre-sale background check to include sales at gun shows and sales advertised in print or online. Non-commercial sales, such as between family members and friends, would be exempt.
The proposal is one of the main amendments expected to be offered next week to broad and controversial gun control legislation brought to the Senate floor Thursday by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
The Manchin-Toomey proposal, announced earlier this week but not completed into bill form until Thursday, also contains some provisions not related to background checks, including allowing gun dealers to sell firearms across state lines and allowing people with state permits for carrying concealed weapons to transport their firearms through states that don't allow concealed carry.
"If we can get to situation where their amendment does what they say it does, which is if it's a private transaction - basically in any private transaction there's no background check at all, no move toward registration - and what they are really attempting to do is address the commercial transaction that happens at a gun show ... I'm looking at that and saying that is something that is reasonable, talk to me a little more about it," she said.
Murkowski said she spoke to Manchin and Toomey after Thursday's opening vote on gun control legislation to discuss some of the concerns she has about implementing their proposal in Alaska because of its size and geography.
Murkowski also said she believes Manchin is making a legitimate effort to produce passable legislation.
"I do think Manchin is making a genuine effort to try to address how we can provide for strengthened background checks that do not impinge on the rights of law-abiding citizens," she said. "I don't know where it's going to go. There's a lot of discussion about it right now. There's a lot of discussion going into the weekend. That is just one of what I am assuming will be many, many amendments that will be taken up."
Murkowski was also one of the several senators to receive a call from President Obama, who has been lobbying senators and speaking publicly in recent days ahead of Thursday's Senate vote. She said Obama called her on Tuesday and they spoke for about five minutes.
"Basically what he was attempting to do was encourage me to look at the Manchin-Toomey proposal," she said, noting that the terms of the agreement hadn't yet been circulated. "Nobody knew the terms, then the president called and said ‘I sure hope you can support it.'"
Obama also called Murkowski's Alaska colleague, Democratic Sen. Mark Begich, in advance of Thursday's Senate vote.
"He's been engaged on this issue," Murkowski said. "You see him traveling around the country trying to rally folks. But we've got work to do in the Senate now that members have voted to go on the bill, and my hope is that there's a constructive amendment process that will go forward.
"I think it's probably a good conversation to have - to have a full-on debate so people know where their senators stand."
Contact managing editor Rod Boyce at 459-7585. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMeditor