U.S. senator

J. Scott Applewhite

WASHINGTON - At least two Republican senators have signaled that they may reconsider their opposition to expanded national background checks for gun purchases, aides said Monday, suggesting that the push for stricter gun laws could return as a top issue in Washington in the coming weeks.

The gun debate appeared to be largely abandoned on Capitol Hill following a resounding defeat in the Senate last month. But a handful of lawmakers are showing a new eagerness to engage on the issue after gun-control groups launched campaigns against senators of both parties who voted against the background check proposal.

Capitol Hill aides Monday declined to identify the two Republicans who have approached Democrats about restarting the debate on the issue. But Sens. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., signaled through their spokesmen that they would be open to debating the background-check proposal again.

Flake acknowledged on Facebook last week that his approval ratings have dropped because of his vote against the proposal.

His spokeswoman, Genevieve Rozansky, said in an email Monday that the senator "has said all along that background checks need to be strengthened, particularly with regard to the mentally ill. So he is hopeful that changes will be made to (legislation) that address his concerns regarding private sales, and that a bill will be brought back to the floor."

Aides to Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who voted against the background-check plan, declined to comment Monday. Ayotte has been the target of waves of television ads funded by gun-control groups.

Senate aides and activists pushing for stricter gun laws say there are likely two windows of opportunity for the Senate to return to gun legislation: this month after consideration of an Internet taxation bill, or this summer after wavering senators have had enough time to reconsider their position.

But key to the issue's success would be a new groundswell of support for stricter gun laws among the general public, according to legislative aides and activists. Supportive lawmakers are waiting to see whether a new public campaign by gun-control groups and the White House will put enough pressure on senators who voted no to at least reconsider their stance.

Advocates are trying to "make the pain of the vote so biting and so lasting that it is not politically sustainable," said Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the group financed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, I.

"The terrain has shifted under senators' feet, and I don't think they've realized it yet," Glaze said.