Editorial: Senate again bows to NRA intimidation

Published: Thursday, Apr. 11, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 12A
Last Modified: Thursday, Apr. 11, 2013 - 8:01 am

The National Rifle Association opposes an expansion of the nation's background check system for gun sales. And that, it is absolutely clear, continues to be what matters in Congress. Very little has changed since Newtown.

The so-called Manchin-Toomey compromise on background checks is being touted as the way to avoid a U.S. Senate filibuster that would prevent any of the larger gun legislation package (S. 649) from even coming to a vote on the Senate floor.

But let us be clear. What is being reported – and actual language was not available as of Wednesday afternoon about the Manchin-Toomey Amendment – amounts to a giant step away from having a universal background check system that would govern the sales of all guns. We now have two senators who have A ratings from the NRA dictating the shape of background checks, Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa.

Currently, background checks are required only for sales handled through licensed gun dealers. Private sales do not require the seller to determine whether the buyer is legally entitled to own a firearm.

The Manchin-Toomey Amendment would close some existing loopholes on background checks. Most private-party sales in commercial settings, including at gun shows and advertised on the Internet, would require a background check through a licensed dealer. But, as with current sales through a dealer, for these private sales, the dealer would be able to accept a valid state firearms permit instead of conducting a background check. That loophole would continue.

And noncommercial person-to-person firearms sales would not be covered. As Manchin said at a press conference on Wednesday: "Personal transfers are not touched whatsoever."

The compromise also, according to the New York Daily News, "would allow people with concealed carry licenses in one state to carry their gun in a state without concealed carry laws while traveling." California and other states would have to honor concealed weapons permits issued by any other state – no matter how lax those standards might be. That should be a deal-killer.

If approved, the Manchin-Toomey Amendment would replace a stricter background-check expansion that would have covered almost all private sales. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, said he plans to introduce legislation in the House similar to the Manchin-Toomey Amendment.

The Senate's base bill already is so minimal. All that is left are stiffer penalties for gun trafficking and straw purchases (when someone buys a gun legally and passes it to someone prohibited from owning guns) and Sen. Barbara Boxer's provision to provide grants for school districts to develop safety plans.

With the compromise, 10 Senate Republicans have said they'll vote with the majority to advance the gun bill to the floor for debate. They can still filibuster the actual bill itself, of course. Today's vote, in short, does not assure an up-or-down vote on any gun measure.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein continues to say that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has promised her a vote on her amendment to reinstate, and close loopholes in, the 1994-2004 ban on military-style semiautomatic assault weapons and the ban on large-capacity magazines with more than 10 rounds.

Americans should steadfastly insist on votes on all these measures, including a vote on a universal background check system. Voters deserve to know who bowed to the gun lobby when they vote in the 2014 election cycle.

Congress clearly is moving very far away from a strong bill and the American people deserve to know who is responsible, vote by vote.

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