When Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., sat down to hammer out a bipartisan deal on background checks to be added to a 2013 gun control bill, they were working under a shared premise: Criminals and the mentally ill should not get their hands on guns.
That’s where the two pro-gun, gun-owning, NRA-backed senators from hunting states found common ground for their amendment to the Senate’s gun control bill. If it gets passed, the Manchin-Toomey compromise announced Wednesday will make it harder for known lawbreakers and those with mental-health problems to own a firearm by expanding background checks to gun shows and online sales.
Under current law, only those who buy guns from a dealer go through a background check. That means there is a loophole for potential purchasers online and at gun shows. The Manchin-Toomey plan will close that loophole but not interfere with transactions between relatives.
What the amendment will not do is prevent law-abiding people from owning firearms, the two senators said in a press conference Wednesday morning. They have also agreed on a commission for preventing mass violence like the slaughter in Newtown, Conn., last December. Twenty-six people -- 20 children and six educators -- were gunned down at the school by a deranged young man.
“Truly the events of Newtown changed us all,” Manchin said. “This amendment won’t change the pain … but nobody with a good conscience can sit by and not try to prevent a day like Newtown.”
To possible critics of the amendment, Toomey said expanding criminal background checks is not gun control.
“It’s common sense,” he said, adding that he wouldn’t support a measure that infringes on the Second Amendment. “Background checks are not a cure-all by any means but can be useful.”
Shortly after the senators made their announcement, the National Rifle Association issued a statement that expanding background checks at gun shows will not prevent the next shooting.
“[It] will not solve violent crime and will not keep our kids safe in schools,” the statement read.
The NRA, the largest gun lobby in America, argues that the mental health system is broken and that such damage cannot be fixed by abridging gun rights.
“The sad truth is that no background check would have prevented the tragedies in Newtown, Aurora or Tucson,” the statement read. “We need a serious and meaningful solution that addresses crime in cities like Chicago, addresses mental health deficiencies, while at the same time protecting the rights of those of us who are not a danger to anyone. President Obama should be as committed to dealing with the gang problem that is tormenting honest people in his hometown as he is to blaming law-abiding gun owners for the acts of psychopathic murderers.”
Both Toomey and Manchin are “A”-rated senators with the NRA.
When asked if he feared his support for background checks will affect his NRA rating, Toomey said, “what matters to me is doing the right thing.”
Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is calling a Senate vote on gun control tomorrow, but more than 12 conservative Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, are prepared to filibuster it.
Toomey told reporters that there are Republicans in support of their compromise but didn’t say who.