Prospects brighten for Senate gun control bill

Washington —  A deal on a proposal that would expand background checks of gun buyers  has brightened the prospect of Senate approval of new gun control legislation, but hurdles remain.

Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., both National Rifle Association supporters, agreed on a proposal that would close the so-called “gun show loophole” so that private sellers would have to have a licensed firearm dealer run FBI background checks on potential gun buyers.

“Where I come from we have common sense, we have nonsense and now we have gun sense,” Manchin said.

Toomey said “I don’t consider criminal background checks to be gun control. It’s just common sense.”

The compromised aims to secure the votes of several Republicans and some Democrats from rural states with many gun owners.

The legislation would more strictly regulate Internet sales. However, person-to-person sales would be exempt from the new requirement and the compromise does not reach the goal of universal background checks set by President Obama.

The agreement would also make clear that doctors can enter mental health records into the FBI background check system without violating privacy laws.

“This is not my bill, and there are aspects of the agreement I might prefer to be stronger,” Obama said. “But the agreement does represent welcome and significant bipartisan progress.”

The deal was rejected by the NRA, which has opposes all gun control proposals on Capitol Hill.

“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,” an NRA statement said. “While the overwhelming rejection of President Obama and [New York] Mayor [Mike]  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 sad truth is that no background check would have prevented the tragedies in Newtown, Aurora or Tucson.”

Toomey said he reluctantly entered into the gun-control debate raging on Capitol Hill, deciding to do so only after it became obvious some new gun-control measures are inevitable.

The Manchin-Toomey compromise will be offered as an amendment to a  bill under consideration in the Senate that would also increase federal penalties for gun trafficking and “straw purchases” or buying guns for felons and others prohibited by law from owning them.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., also hopes to win approval of an amendment that would limit magazine cartridges to 10 rounds and ban the import of high-capacity magazines.

“Ten rounds or more, we need to say no,” Blumenthal said.

President Obama was at least mildly pleased.

“I applaud Senators Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey for their leadership,” he said.

“This is not my bill,” the president continued, “nd there are aspects of the agreement that I might prefer to be stronger.  But the agreement does represent welcome and significant bipartisan progress. It recognizes that there are good people on both sides of this issue, and we don’t have to agree on everything to know that we’ve got to do something to stem the tide of gun violence.”

But the legislation is being held up by a group of Republican senators who oppose the expansion of background checks.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has scheduled a vote Thursday to try to free the bill and send it to the floor, but that would take 60 votes.

There are 53 Democrats in the Senate and two independents who usually vote with them, so  Republican votes are needed.

Also, it’s not clear all Democrats will vote for the gun bill.

If the Senate does approve the legislation, it faces a tough challenge in the GOP-controlled House.