April 10 (Bloomberg) -- Two U.S. senators said they reached a bipartisan agreement to expand background checks of gun purchasers, boosting the prospects of a broader Senate plan to curb firearm violence.
The agreement will "prevent criminals and the mentally ill from getting firearms and harming people," Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, told reporters today. Senator Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, was at his side at a news conference in Washington.
Toomey said, "I don’t consider criminal background checks to be gun control. It’s just common sense."
"It’s the people who fail a criminal or mental-health background check that we don’t want having guns," Toomey said.
Toomey’s backing may help draw the support of Republicans and Democrats from pro-gun states. Manchin has an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association, which opposes new gun restrictions. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid scheduled a procedural vote tomorrow on the gun legislation, which also would crack down on firearms trafficking and increase funding for school safety.
The measure is a scaled-back version of a gun-safety agenda President Barack Obama proposed after 20 children and six adults were killed in a Dec. 14 shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Obama’s proposals to renew a ban on assault weapons and limit the size of ammunition magazines were dropped from the Senate bill because of a lack of support from lawmakers.
Even if the legislation with background checks passes the Democratic-led Senate, it faces an uncertain future in the Republican-run House. "We’ll wait and see what the Senate does," Speaker John Boehner told reporters today.
Toomey and Manchin’s plan would expand current law to require background checks for gun sales over the Internet and between private parties at gun shows. Noncommercial person-to- person firearms sales wouldn’t be covered.
Democrats wanted to require background checks for almost all gun sales, though some supporters said the approach by Toomey and Manchin would be a good compromise.
"I want it as comprehensive as can be," Senator Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, said yesterday. Even so, "if you took care of online sales and gun shows, it would be significant," he said.
The two senators’ plan would mandate record-keeping of the background checks. That is a Democratic proposal opposed by the NRA, the nation’s largest gun-rights lobby.
Law enforcement officials say records are needed to ensure that the rules are followed and to help trace weapons used in crimes.
Earlier talks stalled between Senators Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, and Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, over Coburn’s objections to the record-keeping requirement, which the NRA has said could lead to a national gun registry.
The compromise "is a huge step forward because it provides for strong background checks on the sales venues and avenues that are easiest for criminals to exploit," said Arkadi Gerney, a crime and gun policy expert at the Center for American Progress, a Democratic-aligned group in Washington.
In the House, Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia said Feb. 27 he opposed expanded background checks and didn’t plan to hold hearings on the proposal.
Reid, a Nevada Democrat, announced yesterday that the Senate would move forward with the gun legislation as some Republicans said they wouldn’t join Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and 13 other party members in seeking to block debate. The 14 Republicans haven’t said whether they would try to block a proposal with a revised background-check plan from Toomey and Manchin.
"I’m going forward on this," Reid told reporters. "The American people deserve a vote."
Obama is campaigning to preserve momentum for what is left of the gun-control measures he proposed in January after the shootings in Newtown. His proposals to ban military-style semiautomatic rifles and limit ammunition-magazine capacity will be offered in the Senate as amendments, which stand little chance of adoption.
Advocacy groups and family members of gun-violence victims have sought to offset the influence of the NRA. Relatives of Newtown victims flew to Washington on Air Force One with the president on April 8 to press lawmakers for action on the issue.
Pressure on Toomey
Groups such as CeaseFirePA pressed Toomey, who represents a Democratic-leaning state that voted for Obama, to support the Senate effort. The group organized an April 9 rally outside the senator’s Philadelphia office to urge his support.
"Senator Toomey is showing guts," former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, a Democrat, said at the rally.
Mandatory background checks for most gun purchasers are supported by 91 percent of American voters, including 96 percent of Democrats, 88 percent of Republicans and 88 percent of gun- owning households, according to a Quinnipiac University poll conducted March 27-April 1.
NRA President David Keene has maintained that universal background checks could lead to "forced buybacks" or door-to- door confiscation of weapons by the government. His Fairfax, Virginia-based group says it has 4 million members. Licensed U.S. firearms dealers have been keeping sales records since passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968, while background checks on all U.S. commercial sales began in 1993. The creation of a national gun registry is prohibited under federal law.
--Editors: Laurie Asseo, Jodi Schneider
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