U.S. Sen. Rob Portman said his opposition to expanding background checks for firearms purchases “isn’t about politics.”
“It’s about principles, and I take that very seriously,” said Portman, a Republican, in a Thursday conference call with journalists.
Portman voted Wednesday against a bill to include private sales at gun shows and all Internet sales but exempt most sales among family members.
That vote prompted state Rep. Robert F. Hagan, a Democrat from Youngstown, to declare his candidacy against the Republican in the 2016 election.
When asked Thursday about Hagan’s candidacy and criticism, Portman laughed and said, “I’m going to keep looking for solutions to gun violence.”
The senator also said, “Instead of making this partisan, I’ll continue to work” on this issue.
In response, Hagan said, “I’m not going to let this guy off the hook. He’s got to answer to the 90 percent of people who favor background checks. I’m going to hold him accountable.”
Hagan accused Portman of being “owned” by the National Rifle Association, which opposed the bill.
The NRA spent $1,189,179 on independent expenditure ads to help get Portman elected to the Senate in 2010, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which monitors and compiles federal campaign-finance information.
That’s the fourth highest amount spent that year by the NRA on a Senate campaign.
When asked about Hagan’s NRA comment, Portman said he is “not representing any organizations. I represent the people of Ohio.”
Portman joined most Republicans and five Democrats in voting against the bill to expand background checks. Four Republicans supported it. The amendment needed 60 votes to move forward. It was approved 54-46.
“Frankly, it wouldn’t have made a difference in Newtown,” Conn., Portman said. A gunman killed 20 children and six adults at a school there last December.
Portman said the amendment makes it “more difficult for law-abiding Ohioans to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed rights” to bear arms.
Problems include exemptions to background checks for extended family members only up to first cousins, and ransactions online, including Facebook, among close friends and family members, Portman said.
“He’s more worried about his second cousin than the 20 children” in Newtown, Hagan said. “I will hound him and others who voted against background checks.”
Portman supported legislation that also didn’t pass the Senate on Wednesday to improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, increase resources for prosecution of gun crime, address mental illness in the criminal-justice system, and strengthen criminal law for illegal firearm trafficking.