Sen. Mitch McConnell. R-Ky C-SPAN

Washington – An effort to strengthen the gun buyer background check system received a big boost on Tuesday as both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer became co-sponsors of the legislation.

The “Fix NICs” bill in the Senate now has 11 Republican co-sponsors and 11 Democratic co-sponsors, including Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal.

But it’s the new support from GOP senators that makes a real difference, Murphy said.

“Today was a watershed in that we have enough Republicans to be able to avert a filibuster,” he said.

Supporters of the legislation would need 60 votes to end a filibuster.

The National Rifle Association has endorsed the legislation, which aims to prevent individuals like the shooter in Sutherland, Texas, from slipping through the cracks of the federal gun-buyer background check system.

The Fix NICS bill would not expand the federal background check system beyond purchases made by registered dealers in stores and gun shops. It would continue to allow sales by individuals on the Internet and at gun shows to be exempt from the system.

The Fix NICs bill instead reinforces the requirement that federal agencies report all infractions to NICS, and creates a financial incentive for states to do so as well.

The bill also has a “stick.” It would withhold bonuses and overtime pay from political appointees who head agencies that aren’t fully compliant in their reporting of information to NICS.

Texas shooter Devin Kelly, who killed 26 people in a small church near San Antonio, escaped from a mental health facility in 2012 after he was caught sneaking guns onto an Air Force base and “attempting to carry out death threats” made against military superiors.

Kelly also spent 12 months in a military prison for assaulting his then-wife and stepson and received a bad-conduct discharge. But the Air Force never reported those charges, which would have disqualified Kelly from buying a gun, to the NICS system.

Murphy said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, an original co-sponsor of the Senate bill, helped round up GOP support. So did some Democrats, who were told they had to pair up with a GOP lawmaker to be able to co-sponsor the bill, Murphy said.

A similar House bill will be marked up Wednesday in the House Judiciary Committee.

That bill has bipartisan support, too.

But both the House and Senate Fix NICS bills are opposed by some gun advocacy groups, including Gun Owners of America, who say the background check system is a “infringement” on the Second Amendment and unconstitutional.

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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