The gun-controlling power couple of former NASA shuttle commander Mark Kelly and his wife Gabby Giffords — a much-beloved congresswoman from Arizona who suffered a gunshot wound to the head during a 2011 town hall meeting in Tucson -- are back in Washington to pressure lawmakers ahead of a vote on new gun legislation.
Their prime target: Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who announced opposition to the Toomey, Manchin background check bill late Monday on his Facebook page.
"Manchin-Toomey would expand background checks far beyond commercial sales to include almost all private transfers – including between friends and neighbors. ...This simply goes too far," Flake's post says.
The first sweeping gun legislation to have a vote on the Senate floor in nearly two decades is floundering. Democratic leadership is scrambling to keep vulnerable Democrats up for reelection in conservative states from peeling off, while simultaneously recruiting enough moderate Republicans to pass the bill.
Kelly told reporters during a breakfast meeting in Washington Tuesday that he and Gabby plan to use the personal meeting this afternoon to change Flake's mind.
"I don't think this is over with him. I view him as a reasonable person. I think we get him to come around," Kelly says.
Kelly says Flake may not have understood the bill if he is concerned that the legislation expands background checks to private sales.
"Maybe he hasn't read the bill. His concerns are clearly addressed in the piece of legislation," Kelly says.
Asked to comment on Kelly’s remarks, Flake told U.S. News in an emailed statement, “I respect Gabby and Mark and their strong viewpoints on this issue.”
The Manchin, Toomey compromise closes the so-called gun show loophole and requires private sellers over the internet to administer background checks on buyers through a registered firearms dealer. But the legislation says private gun exchanges between family and friends do not require a background check.
"[Senators] are looking for a reason to get to 'no' because of the influence of the gun lobby," Kelly believes.
Many Republican lawmakers argue that it is not the NRA, but the reality that background checks don't stop crime.
"Expanding gun background checks would have done nothing to stop Newtown or other mass shootings," Sen. Chuck Grassley,R-Iowa, said Tuesday. "Opposition to the amendment does not come from fringe elements."
Kelly, who has spent a considerable amount of time lobbying Capitol Hill over the past few months, says that his push to expand background checks and limit high-capacity magazines has been more taxing because of the incredible power of the National Rifle Association.
He says that's a major reason why the couple launched Americans for Responsible Solutions, a PAC to act as a counterweight to the NRA. The group's mission is to replace lawmakers who do not vote in favor of legislation they believe will curb gun violence.
And Kelly says that despite a personal relationship with Flake, if they cannot get him to vote 'yes' on background checks, his seat could be in jeopardy.
"If there was the right candidate out there and he didn't support this legislation [we would oppose him]," Kelly says. "Friendship is one thing. Saving people's lives, especially first graders, is another."