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Harry Reid calls for expanded background checks

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is pushing for a vote on gun-control measures, including expanded background checks, in light of the mass shooting last week at an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, in which nine people were killed.

“My personal feeling is that we have to take a hard look at this,” Reid told reporters Tuesday, adding that “even though we may not be able to win that vote,” many Americans are demanding action.

“How many more of these tragedies are we going to have to come and try to explain away here?” Reid said.

The Senate’s top Democrat also touched on the issue in a floor speech earlier Tuesday, citing several mass shootings in the United States within the past six years. He called for background checks that would prevent the mentally ill and people with criminal records from buying firearms.

“Is that asking too much? Couldn’t we at least do this little thing to stop people who are mentally ill, people who are criminals from purchasing guns?” Reid said on the Senate floor. “The people support it. It has bipartisan support. Americans overwhelmingly agree that those who are mentally ill or are felons should not be able to buy guns. We should act to save lives by expanding background checks.”

In April 2013, the Democratic-controlled Senate failed to advance a bill from Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) to expand background checks on gun sales after most Republicans joined with a handful of red-state Senate Democrats to block it.

Gun control legislation has been scarce on Capitol Hill since, and any measures putting more restrictions on firearms would be a major uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Congress.

President Barack Obama, speaking Friday in San Francisco, also alluded to the issue of gun control, although he acknowledged that it was unclear whether legislation mulled by Congress would have stopped Dylann Roof, whom authorities say shot and killed nine people who had gathered for Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

Law enforcement officials told NBC News that Roof’s purchase of a .45-caliber Glock handgun was legal under current statutes, although the 21-year-old is currently facing a drug charge.

“If Congress had passed some common-sense gun safety reforms after Newtown, after a group of children had been gunned down in their own classroom — reforms that 90 percent of the American people supported — we wouldn’t have prevented every act of violence, or even most,” Obama said then. “We don’t know if it would have prevented what happened in Charleston. No reform can guarantee the elimination of violence. But we might still have some more Americans with us.”

Read more: Politico