The prospects for passage of legislation to expand background checks of gun buyers got a boost Wednesday with the announcement of a bipartisan agreement reached by a pair of U.S. senators who are often described in media reports as strong defenders of gun rights. Democrat Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania announced the agreement at an 11 a.m. press conference Wednesday.
"Candidly, I don't consider criminal background checks to be gun control. I think it's just common sense," Toomey said.
The amendment they will offer to a bill now before the Senate would expand background checks to include sales made at guns shows and online in addition to those required under current federal law for purchases made from licensed commercial gun dealers.
"If you go to a gun show, you should be subject to the same [requirement] as if you go to a gun store," Manchin said. The measure would exempt sales made to friends or family members. The inclusion of such transactions in the current bill has been a key feature cited by opponents of the measure.
"Personal transactions are not affected whatever." Manchin said. Toomey tried to sweeten the deal and soften opposition to it by including in their amendment provisions for additional protections of gun owners' rights, including freedom from prosecution of a non-resident for violating the licensing law of a state through which he is traveling. It would also allow active duty military personnel to purchase guns in any state. Military personnel are currently permitted to purchase firearms only in the state in which they are based, Toomey said.
The two first-term senators, from neighboring states with strong support of gun rights, have both received high rankings and endorsements in their Senate campaigns from the National Rifle Association, a fact that may help engender support for the amendment and the final bill from other pro-gun senators. Toomey said, however, he was not committed to voting for the bill even if the amendment passes. He would have to see what other amendments are added and what the final version contains.
"I've not taken a very high profile role on this issue," Toomey said. "What became apparent to me in the course of this debate, there is the danger that we might end up accomplishing nothing, and not making progress where we could."
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