Sen. Jeff Flake urges victims to continue gun control fight

PHOENIX - Republican U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake said he wants Congress to expand background checks for firearm buyers despite his recent vote against the Senate's bipartisan gun control plan.

The so-called Manchin-Toomey measure voted down by Flake and others in the Senate Wednesday was too broad, but a streamlined version should win Congress' support, Flake said. The proposal fell short of the 60 votes needed to advance in the Senate. An attempt to ban assault-style rifles failed as well, along with a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines.

Proponents say it will be harder to advance the gun control drive as more time lapses between December's killing of children and staff at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., but Flake said he remains optimistic.

"I hope this debate isn't over. I hope we can continue," Flake told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Friday. "We do need to take measures to make this situation better and we can do so in a way that is consistent with the Second Amendment."

Gun violence victims planned to rally at Flake's Phoenix office Friday morning. The protesters, including Caren Teves, whose son was killed last summer in a shooting at a Colorado movie theater, have demanded an apology from Flake because of his vote.

Flake said he didn't support the legislation because it would have affected some private gun transfers between friends and neighbors.

"My position has been the same. I favor measures to strengthen our background checks, particularly as it regards people with mental illness," Flake said. "Although the intent, I believe, was just to take care of commercial sales and not involve private sales, it went deep into private sales."

Since 1968, federal law has banned the sale of guns to people with mental problems. The background check system -- which is also used to prevent convicted felons from buying guns -- was established under the 1993 Brady Bill.

Flake said victims of gun violence have brought a much-needed sense of urgency to the gun control debate, but he acknowledged that he has disappointed them, including close friend former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was severely wounded in a 2011 mass shooting in Tucson. Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, had lobbied Flake and other Republicans to pass the gun control measure and Kelly indicated this week that he would work to remove Flake from office if he continued to vote against expanded background checks.

"I don't take offense. I admire them and I respect them for their strong views on these issues," Flake said. "I am glad they have been in Washington."

Flake said he had not been lobbied by the National Rifle Association and was not "beholden" to the powerful pro-Second Amendment organization that opposed the legislation.

"I voted to have debate on the bill and they didn't like that at all," he said.

Flake stopped short of offering gun violence victims an apology.

"I was very glad to see the victims of a number of the tragedies we've seen -- Tucson, Aurora, Newton -- I visited with many of them. It was helpful to have them there. I am glad they were because they help bring a sense of urgency," he said.

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