Gun rights group endorses Manchin-Toomey background-check bill
In anticipation of Senate votes this week on a proposed expansion of criminal background checks for firearms sales, one gun rights organization broke with the powerful National Rifle Association on Sunday to urge support for a compromise drafted by Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.).
The endorsement by the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms — which calls itself the second-largest gun rights organization in the country, behind the NRA, claiming 650,000 members and supporters — is one of several moves over the past few days that have provided a boost to the hopes of proponents of background checks.
While leading gun-control advocates — including President Obama and New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) — back the bipartisan proposal, the announcement of support Sunday from the Citizens Committee reveals that substantial parts of the bill are viewed as “wins” for the gun lobby, including provisions that would prohibit a government registry of gun ownership and make it easier to transport and market weapons across state lines.
Though news of a split in the usually unified gun lobby cheered gun-control advocates, the gun lobby can count other probable wins in the current debate, such as the likely defeat of legislation to limit military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. Now, an expansion of background-check requirements for gun sales is considered the most likely major achievement.
Initially, gun-control advocates hoped for a requirement for background checks of individuals purchasing a gun under most any circumstance. Currently, background checks are conducted only for purchases made from licensed gun dealers. The compromise measure, drafted by Toomey and Manchin, would require background checks for currently exempt online and gun-show sales but not for most other private transactions.
There were other signs of momentum on gun-control legislation over the weekend, including a tentative expression of support for the Toomey-Manchin compromise on Sunday from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), an endorsement by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), and indications of backing from several House Republicans, including some who have had previous endorsements from the NRA.
Officially, only three Republican senators — Toomey, Collins and Mark Kirk (Ill.) — have said they plan to vote for the Manchin-Toomey agreement. Democratic aides say the bill will need the backing of at least six Republican senators to pass. The measure still has a long and tortuous path, with dozens of amendments expected. The Senate is scheduled to begin formal debate Tuesday by first considering the plan to expand the gun background-check program.
Sixteen GOP senators voted late last week to proceed to debate, but several of them and some moderate Democratic senators said they are unlikely to support the bill’s proposed compromise amendments. It is not known how many amendments will be considered by the Senate over the next two weeks.