WASHINGTON Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Thursday that to be effective any gun-control bill that passes his chamber must include universal background checks, an embattled centerpiece of the White House's bid to curb gun violence.
Reid voiced hope that an elusive bipartisan deal can soon be reached to require virtually all firearm purchasers to be screened for criminal records and possible mental health problems.
Republicans have voiced concerns that a proposed record-keeping provision in private sales could lead to registration, something that gun-rights groups have long opposed.
But Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said in a statement: "In order to be effective, any bill that passes the Senate must include background checks."
Federally registered gun dealers are required to conduct such background checks, but about 40 percent of guns are purchased from private sellers who have no such obligation.
Earlier this week, Reid acknowledged that there is not enough support in the Senate to pass another key part of Obama's drive to curb gun violence - a proposed renewal of a ban on the sale of military-style assault weapons.
Obama offered a package of gun-control reforms in the wake of a December 13 massacre at a Connecticut elementary school that left 20 children and six adults dead and a nation demanding action.
Gun-rights groups and their supporters in Congress have argued that many of the proposed measures, including the ban on assault weapons, would violate Americans' constitutional right to bear arms.
The Senate is set to begin consideration of gun-control legislation when Congress returns from its Easter Recess in the second week of April.
Reid said he will bring a bill to the floor that includes expanded background checks along with two other measures recently approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
One would make it a federal crime to buy a gun for someone who is prohibited from owning one. The other would provide $40 million a year over 10 years to bolster school security.
Both of those measures are expected to win Senate approval, but it is unclear what, if any, other gun measures may be passed.
Reid said he will permit a number of amendments to the pending gun bill, including ones that would impose a 10-bullet limit on high-capacity ammunition clips.
He said he will also permit a vote on the proposed assault weapons ban, even though he said earlier this week that fewer than 40 of the chamber's 100 members back it.
"In his State of the Union address, President Obama called for these provisions to receive votes, and I will ensure that they do," Reid said.
(Reporting By Thomas Ferraro; Editing by Christopher Wilson)