Washington (CNN) - Senate negotiators have not given up hope that bipartisan compromise is possible on the issue of background checks for guns, according to sources familiar with the talks, despite not yet finding common ground on the divide over how to handle records from those checks.
Central to the talks is Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, a pro-gun Republican with a 100% rating from the National Rifle Association. Coburn is on board with the idea of conducting background checks to prevent convicted felons and the mentally impaired from purchasing guns. But he is vehemently opposed to any legislation allowing the federal government to keep track of who owns guns.
Most gun control advocates, however, argue that some record of a background check must be kept in order to enforce the check and trace the purchase of the gun in case it is used in a crime.
Sources close to the talks say Coburn spoke last week to Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, the chief Senate negotiator on the issue, and say aides to the two men are talking.
The Senate is currently on schedule to begin voting on gun control measures as soon as next week when Congress returns from spring break, but Democratic sources admit the gun bill as currently written does not have the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster. This bill written by Democrats includes a background check that requires gun sellers to keep a record of the background check as part of the sale.
Democratic leadership sources say Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would delay votes until the following week if there is a bipartisan agreement on background checks.
Coburn has been seen as a lynchpin on this issue, since his credentials as a conservative gun owner would give political cover not just to Republicans, but to the handful of conservative Democrats who are reluctant to support new gun control measures, including background checks.
Democratic sources also say that Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, another staunch supporter of gun rights, is working on a separate track with unnamed Republicans to cut a deal on the background check issue.
When it comes to Coburn and Schumer's talks, sources familiar with the specifics tell CNN that what Coburn has proposed is something he calls a "portal" for background checks outside gun stores – like gun shows and other private sales.
The way the "portal" would work is that a gun buyer would go to a website, fill out personal information and, if that buyer has no criminal record or history of mental illness, would get a green light to buy a gun. The buyer would print out that approval and bring it to the gun show, or wherever the private sale is conducted.
To set up the portal system, it would cost federal dollars and would mean using a government system to maintain.
Still, sources say Democratic gun control advocates could find a way to support this Coburn idea.
The biggest problem – according to sources on both sides of the issue – is what to do about records from these checks.
Coburn does not want to require the seller in a private transaction to keep a record of the background check. Gun control advocates argue there must be a way to keep a paper record of the private sale – just like licensed gun dealers do – in order to enforce the background check and trace the gun sale if it's used in a crime.
CNN is told that Schumer had proposed the idea of asking a third party – perhaps gun manufacturers – to hold onto the background check records, but Coburn refused.
According to sources on both sides, no one is advocating a central registry of the background check.
Currently, federal law requires the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to destroy records of requests for background checks within 24 hours.
In town hall meetings in his home state of Oklahoma, Coburn has expressed cautious optimism about finding common ground on this thorny issue.
According to a report from the Ada News in Oklahoma, Coburn told constituents he hopes there is a system "where it's easy for me as a gun owner to know I'm not selling my gun to a felon or somebody that's mentally impaired with no records kept, I have no problem with trying to do that. And that's what I've been trying to do for the last three months."