Background checks - of all gun control measures set forth - make the most sense. However here are the facts regarding them - and the recent effort to expand them:
1) Nothing is done when people fail the check - even though prosecution is easy. Local authorities are not even notified. Instead, the criminal or mentally ill person is left on the street, free to find a gun in the black market. This is the biggest reason gun rights advocates think this is not about keeping guns out of the hands of criminals.
2) Any background check system is dependent upon having a good database. Until the totally broken mental health system is fixed, many mentally ill people will still be able to buy firearms. The Giffords shooter had 20+ law enforcement contacts and was never sent into a hospital for evaluation. As a former paramedic I find this unbelievable as in CA this guy would have been evaluated. Had that happened, he would not have been able to buy a gun in the legal market. Yet, mental health reform is dead - because the administration only wants gun control.
3) In the initial background check bill, records of approved background checks would have been retained and would have identified the firearm and the new owner - it was a back door registration system. There were no exemptions for transfers between family members. This would have amounted to gun registration, hiding under the label of "background checks". This overreach and deceptiveness doomed the bill. Even when a very reasonable compromise was set forth - and supported by the one of the big gun rights groups - the die was already cast. The gun owning public remained focused upon the original version - even with a compromise that actually gave us gun rights folks many things we have been striving to get for decades.
Obama could have his background checks tomorrow. A bill could have NRA support tomorrow. It just needs to have the exemptions and controls that were in the compromise bill, the protections against a registration system that was in that bill, and a significant gain for gun rights. It should be clear that nothing is going to happen without the support of the NRA and gun owners.
I can think of two that would work:
1) Mandatory CCW permit reciprocity. This would likely lead to the remaining 9 states that do not have a "shall issue" system adopting one - since their residents could simply go to another state and get a permit. 25 years have proven the anti-gun rights crowd wrong. There have been no blood baths, no shoot outs in the streets. Permit holders have actually been proven to be less of a risk than off duty cops! Crime has dropped, faster than the national average, in every state that has adopted shall issue and not one state has repealed their "shall issue" law. This provision got 57 votes in the Senate, only 3 shy of the 60 needed to pass.
2) Preemption of state laws regarding purchase, possession and ownership of firearms. Gun control advocates have always argued that state laws don't work because of other states having more "lax" laws. Indeed, the states rated highest on the gun control advocates lists (California, New York, New Jersey, etc) actually have the highest crime rates. Since these laws are not working, and the federal laws will be greatly tightened, federalizing the whole matter of gun regulation makes sense. Additionally, many of these state laws may be struck down in the wake of recent Supreme Court rulings. States could be empowered to pass laws that mirror federal law, enabling them to enforce federal law. Since the NRA has lots of members in states hostile to gun rights, this would be a huge win for them. It would be an answer they could not refuse.
Either of these measures would protect the NRA from charges that they "sold out". However, the administration won't do either because the real goal is not "reasonable gun control" - it is ever tighter gun laws, until there is a virtual ban. I'm actually disappointed that a compromise that expanded background checks (with exemptions for private sales) AND gun rights was not adopted. It could have been a huge WIN - WIN, but the gun control side was not prepared to recognize the huge influence of millions of gun owners who are single issue voters.