Cantor says background checks a possibility
The number two House Republican said Tuesday that he supports beefed up background checks for gun sales, an indication of where potential gun control legislation could be headed on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, told CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash that a system put in place in his home state of Virginia following the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech could be a model for a nationwide measure.
He said that model ensured mental health information was linked to databases used in background checks during gun sales.
"I think that we can take a lot of lessons from what Virginia did and put it in place at the federal level, because there are a lot of states that aren't doing what Virginia is doing to try and beef up the database for the background checks to make sure that we actually can do something that does have a chance at reducing the likelihood and hopefully eliminating it from happening again," Cantor said.
Expanding background checks on gun sales is one of the measures being pushed by President Barack Obama, who spoke in Minneapolis Monday and pressed Congress to act on the legislative proposals he advanced following December's shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
Along with background checks, Obama wants a ban on semi-automatic rifles modeled after military weapons as part of an updated version of an earlier weapons ban that expired in 2004.
Democrats have said the background check measure would stand the best chance of garnering bipartisan support, including from some pro-gun Democrats. Even if passed by the Senate, a gun bill would face tougher scrutiny in the Republican-led House.
Obama said Monday that lawmakers in Congress from both parties were working together on plans that would expand background checks to all gun purchases and criminalize "straw purchases" in which legal gun owners buy weapons for people prohibited from doing so.
Guns sold through private sales currently avoid background checks -- the so-called gun show loophole.
Cantor said Tuesday that he supports "making sure that we increase the quality of information in the database that is in existence already."
On another hot-button topic - immigration - Cantor said any plan on reforming the system currently in place must include increased border security and a guest worker program before any discussion of a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the U.S.
He stopped short of saying that he himself supported a route to citizenship, saying instead he wanted to wait and see where negotiations between Democrats and Republicans led.
"I am for addressing these problems so that we can see a better future for more Americans," he said.
A bipartisan group of senators recently presented a framework for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a "tough but fair" path to citizenship hinged upon bolstering the nation's border security.
The plan comes as Republicans seek to find ways to appeal to minority voters, including Latinos, who overwhelmingly supported Obama in November's election.
Cantor himself is attempting to give the Republican Party a message makeover during a speech Tuesday to the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.
In a sharp departure from the GOP's emphasis on slashing federal spending, bringing down the deficit and moving legislation to assist the "job creators," Cantor is rolling out a more personal appeal in the speech, which asserts Republicans can help Americans "make life work."
Cantor is hoping to put last year's bruising fiscal battles that pit House Republicans against President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats behind and turn the page to a new approach that demonstrates the GOP cares about problems Americans confront in their daily lives.
"I think that there's a lot of lessons to be learned from the last election," Cantor said Tuesday. "And, you know, frankly there are a lot of moms and dads out there that are hurting right now, a lot of working people that are having a real struggle trying to get through the month and too many millions of Americans out of work. And I think what we all need to do is to focus on how we're going to make life work for those people again."
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