The NRA’s not confirming it, but they’re not no-way-no-how-no-chance-ing it either.

Senators negotiating a bill mandating background checks for all gun buyers are privately expecting the National Rifle Association not to fight the measure — provided the legislation does not to require private gun sellers to maintain records of the checks, NBC News has learned.

If that requirement is met and key Republican negotiator Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma signs on, the powerful gun lobby has signaled to lawmakers that they would not actively oppose the bill — and not count votes in favor of it as part of its highly influential NRA lawmaker ratings — according to Senate aides familiar with the stalled negotiations…

The NRA denies being part of any agreement. “We do not take positions on hypotheticals. We will make our position known if and when legislation is introduced,” said Chris Cox, the group’s top lobbyist…

Sources familiar with the negotiations suggest that Schumer has only made a public break [recently] with Coburn because he’s trying to convince groups on the left — the Bloomberg group, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, and others — that they need to give in on record-keeping in order to save a broader package.

Coburn opposes record-keeping because he thinks it might lead to a government gun registry. Schumer insists on record-keeping because it’s the easiest way to prove that that a private seller actually did run a background check on a purchaser before the sale. You already know how this issue polls based on previous posts here, I think, but in case not, here’s a new one from ABC/WaPo this morning:

bc

Here’s the question: Who’s floating this story to NBC and why? One possibility is that it’s a desperation ploy by Schumer, whose current background-check bill barely passed the Senate Judiciary Committee today and is already facing fierce pushback from gun-rights supporters for some of the transfer provisions. Maybe he thinks his bill is headed for a filibuster and is willing to give up on record-keeping in hopes of wringing a few votes out of the GOP caucus. Leaking to the press that the NRA might concede on checks if the left gives up on records is another way to put pressure on his side to deal. Another possibility is that it’s Coburn, who’s executing a variation of Schumer’s strategy. Schumer, allegedly, is feigning a public split with Coburn over the record-keeping issue in order to force his side to give ground; Coburn could be whispering to the media about a tentative NRA concession in order to make the compromise bill more salable to the right. And while the NRA could stop him by flatly denying it, those poll numbers on background checks might have them thinking it’s better to sit back and keep quiet while things play out between Coburn and Schumer. Why weigh in against a measure with wide public support until they absolutely have to?

A third possibility is that it’s the NRA itself that’s leaking, either because they think the GOP might cave on this or because they think they won’t. Ninety-one percent support for background checks puts a lot of pressure on Republicans; if the NRA goes to the mat in opposition and Schumer somehow squeezes enough votes to get to 60 anyway, the left will take it as a sign that the NRA’s influence is diminishing and that they should keep up the fight for more aggressive gun control. If a Republican cave is in the works here, this may be the NRA’s way of getting out in front the damage control by whispering to the media that they never threw their full weight behind stopping it. They’re as strong as ever; they just didn’t try real hard to win this time. Or, conversely, maybe the NRA’s calculated that there’s no way Schumer’s bill will pass and there’s also no way Democrats will concede on record-keeping (Bloomberg’s outfit, for one, insists on records of private gun sales lest the new background-check process end up toothless), in which case leaking their support for a compromise deal carries no cost. If nothing’s going to happen in the Senate, why not tell the media you were fine with a hypothetical deal? When gun-rights fans object, the NRA can simply deny NBC’s report; meanwhile, fencesitters on the gun issue who’ve heard that the NRA is an “extreme” group opposed to even the most moderate and popular new gun regs might see NBC’s report and conclude that the organization’s not nearly as hardline as liberals insist.

The problem with that theory is, according to some gun-rights advocates, the objections to Schumer’s bill go way beyond record-keeping. To make it acceptable, a whole lot more would have to change than just the records provisions. So, in all likelihood, the NRA would oppose it even if Schumer caved to Coburn on records. Exit question: Who’s leaking and why?

Update: So much for that theory. The NBC story is completely untrue, says the NRA:

An article appearing today on NBCNews.com is falsely reporting that NRA will not oppose legislation being negotiated in the U.S. Senate that would mandate background checks for all gun purchasers.

The story posted on NBCNews.com alleges that NRA will not oppose expanding the background check system to include all private firearm sales, “provided the legislation does not require private gun sellers to maintain records of the checks”. This statement is completely untrue. The NRA opposes criminalizing private firearms transfers between law-abiding individuals, and therefore opposes an expansion of the background check system.

The NRA supports meaningful efforts to address the problems of violent crime and mass violence in America, through swift and certain prosecution of violent criminals; securing our schools; and fixing our broken mental health system.