They call it a “bipartisan” agreement on gun control, but it’s really a deal between two senators, one Republican and one Democrat.
Whether it gets enough bipartisan support to become law is another matter.
Groups that support Second Amendment rights fiercely oppose the bill. It faces a crucial test in the Senate Thursday. And if the Senate does eventually pass it, experts say it faces almost-certain defeat in the Republican-controlled House.
The gun-control bill proposed Wednesday by Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has been championed as a compromise.
It would expand federal background checks for gun sales but not make them universal. The bill would extend the existing background check requirement to online sales and gun shows.
The bill seeks to close the so-called gun-show “loophole” by requiring private sellers to have a licensed firearms dealer run background checks on potential gun buyers. Private sales or exchanges among family, friends and neighbors would be exempt. Background checks are already required for purchases made with licensed gun dealers.
The measure does not require record-keeping of private, person-to-person gun sales to avoid the creation of a national firearms registry. However, record-keeping of commercial gun sales still would be required.
Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, said he doesn’t see the bill as a compromise
“The Senate is on the verge of passing President Obama’s gun-control legislation, completing a national gun registry begun when the instant background check was first imposed,” he told WND.
Pratt sees the measure as a threat that goes beyond Second Amendment issues.
“Republican senators are on the verge of handing the president a victory on guns, which will now lead to renewed momentum for the rest of the president’s agenda,” he said. “Washington needs to hear from their voters as soon and as often as possible.”
The bill would fine states that do not add records of felons and those diagnosed as mentally ill to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
The legislation would also create a commission to study possible causes of mass violence, including guns, school safety, violent video games and mental health.
The National Rifle Association blasted the bill: “Expanding background checks at gun shows will not prevent the next shooting, will not solve violent crime and will not keep our kids safe in schools,” said Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the NRA.
But the NRA did support a bill offered by Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, to increase the penalty for straw purchasers and gun trafficking. Some were concerned that a law on straw buyers would penalize those who buy guns as gifts or raffle prizes.
The Senate will hold a key procedural vote tomorrow aimed at ending a threatened filibuster by more than a dozen Republicans led by Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah. Democrats are expected to get the 60 votes they need to end unlimited debate.
“They are going to spring it on us and bring it to the floor to get on to the gun control buffet,” said Michael Hammond, legislative council for Gun Owners of America. “Their goal is to surprise us before the gun community has a chance to organize.”
However, subjecting the bill to the amendment process could backfire on Democrats. A wary senior Democrat told the Washington Post the Republicans could add any number of NRA-backed amendments to the bill that would need only 51 votes to pass. And, while there are few GOP “swing” votes on guns, there are a number of Democratic “swing” votes, with five incumbents up for re-election. Additionally, gun-rights proposals have received strong support from both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate in the last few years.
The NRA has said doesn’t think the bill, as it is, addresses the real issues.
“While the overwhelming rejection of President Obama and Mayor Bloomberg’s ‘universal’ background check agenda is a positive development, we have a broken mental health system that is not going to be fixed with more background checks at gun shows,” the NRA said in a statement.
“The sad truth is that no background check would have prevented the tragedy in Newtown, Aurora or Tucson,” the NRA said.
The legislation offered by Toomey and Manchin would allow doctors to enter mental health records into the national background check system without violating privacy laws.
But Gun Owners of America characterized that as the “See a Shrink, Lose your Guns” bill.
The group may have been referring to an accusation by an attorney in Hamburg, N.Y., that the state police are suspending the handgun permits of people who have been prescribed anti-anxiety medication.
Toomey represents Pennsylvania, which is the home of citizens President Obama described as “bitter clingers.”
In April 2008, then-candidate Obama was recorded speaking about people in small towns in Pennsylvania who, amid tough times, “get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
And, true to form, many Pennsylvanians are bitter about their senator’s gun-control legislation.
Pennsylvania’s Patriot-News reports that Harrisburg gun shop owner Joe Staudt called Toomey’s office today to express his disappointment.
“Sometimes the best thing for government to do is nothing,” he told the paper.
“If states choose to do this, that’s fine,” he said, adding, “That’s the brilliance of the federalist system.
“We don’t need the federal government making cookie-cutter, one-size fits all laws for every state. We either live in a republic or we don’t.”
Staudt is also concerned about “the endgame for Democrats, as Sen. Dianne Feinstein said the problem is not just banning sales of gun but that we have too many guns out there already and have to do something about it.”
“Her version of this would prevent all private transfers from taking place if you couldn’t produce an original bill of sale,” he said. “How many grandpas out there have bill of sales and want to pass a gun on to a grandchild? Not very many I would say.”
Timothy Sorady, a member of the NRA and Pennsylvania Concerned Citizens, also called Toomey to tell him, “If he continues on this path, it’s going to lead to his dismissal from the Senate.”
Sorady said, “The background check system is currently so overwhelmed and you are going to put more strain on people who want to transfer a firearm. A criminal is not going to go through background checks. So they are doing nothing other than penalizing law-abiding citizens.”
Sorady also pointed out the legislation would force government to define mentally ill.
Toomey said common ground “is found based on the proposition that criminals and mentally ill people shouldn’t have guns.”
“I don’t think that’s a controversial idea,” the senator said. “So the question becomes, ‘How do we achieve that?’ Background checks are not a guarantee, but they do help.”
The NRA endorsed Toomey in 2010. But as he was crafting the current legislation, 75 Pennsylvania House Republicans wrote a letter to the senator, asking him to protect Second Amendment rights, not diminish them.
“Our country does not need additional gun control laws from the federal or state levels of government. We should work to actively enforce our current laws; to stop those who are committing crimes against their fellow citizens,” the letter read.
“Members of Congress should reject the idea that expanding a broken background check system will make anyone safer,” wrote NRA lobbyist Chris Cox in a U.S. News and World Report column.
“The American people deserve better than politicians who continue to pursue failed policy agendas,” he said.
President Obama has been pushing sweeping gun-control proposals since the December school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
Last month, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. D-Nev., dropped attempts to ban so-called assault weapons and to put limits on ammunition magazines, because of opposition by most Republicans and some Democrats. WND reported that Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is vowing to offer the assault-weapon ban as an amendment, but it is not expected to get the support needed to pass.