Toomey, Manchin reach compromise on background checks for guns

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WASHINGTON -- Firearms sellers soon might have to conduct background checks on buyers whether they do business in gun stores, at gun shows or over the Internet.

That measure is at the crux of a bipartisan Senate amendment sealed this morning with a handshake between Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey and West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin, whose compromise plan also eases restrictions on gun purchases by military members and on carrying firearms across state lines.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, has assured the senators that he will bring the measure to the floor. An initial procedural vote could occur as soon as Thursday.

Mr. Toomey told reporters this morning that he doesn't consider the measure "gun control" but a common-sense reform that protects the rights of law-abiding citizens while preventing criminals and the mentally incompetent from buying guns.

Background checks would not be required for certain private sales such as between family members, friends and neighbors.

The amendment also would create a task force to study gun violence. Its members would include experts in mental health, school safety, law enforcement and video game violence.

Both senators are gun owners who have top ratings from the National Rifle Association.

Mr. Manchin said their views on gun control changed after the December school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

"The events in Newtown changed us all. ... It changed our hearts and minds," Mr. Manchin told reporters this morning. "None of us here in this great Capitol of ours with a good conscience could sit by and not try to prevent a day like that from happening again."

Gun-rights advocates were quick to point out that background checks would not have prevented the Newtown massacre because the shooter used a gun his mother had legally purchased.

"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," the NRA said in a statement issued minutes after Mr. Toomey and Mr. Machin's press conference. "We have a broken mental health system that is not going to be fixed with more background checks at gun shows."

Mr. Toomey, who tends to focus on fiscal issues, inserted himself into the gun debate because he wanted to provide a workable alternative to more stringent measures being proposed by other lawmakers.

"I think [the amendment] is a reasonable common ground," he said.

Already, opponents are expressing concerns the measure is the start of a slippery slope that could result in other restrictions on gun ownership in the future.

Mr. Toomey said the proposal is a compromise because it expands gun rights in other areas. For example, it would allow active military -- who are now permitted to buy guns only where they are stationed -- to also buy them in their home states.

It also permits interstate handgun sales and allows gun owners to transport their weapons between to states where they have gun licenses, even if they don't have licenses for states they cross in transit.

Meanwhile, supporters of closing a loophole in Pennsylvania's gun laws held a news conference in the Capitol in Harrisburg to demand a vote on legislation requiring background checks for purchasers of so-called "long guns."

The current law exempts buyers of long-barreled weapons, including shotguns and rifles, from the requirements that purchases or transfers be made in the presence of a licensed gun dealer with a background check of the buyer.

Rep. Steve Santarsiero, D-Bucks, sponsor of legislation to close the loophole, said polls have shown that 90 percent or more of the public favors background checks on gun purchasers. "And yet the word in the Capitol is that this bill will not run," he said. "The people of Pennsylvania deserve a vote."

He was joined at the news conference by more than 100 supporters of stricter gun laws, including the groups CeaseFire PA, Moms Demand Action and Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

Mr. Santarsiero's bill is in the House Judiciary Committee, whose chairman, Ron Marsico, R-Dauphin, could not immediately be reached.

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Jon Schmitz contributed. Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello:, 703-006-9292 or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets. First Published April 10, 2013 12:15 AM


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