Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., right, accompanied by Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., announce that they have reached a bipartisan deal on expanding background checks to more gun buyers, Wednesday, April 10, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin has certainly come a long way … Not so long ago, he was running campaign ads that suggested picking up your gun was a good way to resolve political differences. In the last four months, Sen. Manchin has gone from being a gun-toting red state Democrat pushed by the massacre at Sandy Hook into a reversal on gun control, to an apparent reversal of that reversal, and now is the apparent architect of what could end up being a key compromise on important gun safety legislation.
And in announcing the proposal he worked out with Pennsylvania Republican Patrick Toomey, Sen. Manchin not surprisingly came up with a great soundbite:
Back where I come from we have common sense, we have nonsense and now we have gun sense.
The move brought something that seemed almost impossible — praise for Sen. Manchin from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence:
While we continue to review the draft bill, we believe a majority of the components are a good step forward to reducing gun violence. It continues the work that began more than 20 years ago when the Brady background check system was first created. Since that time, two million prohibited purchasers have been prevented from buying a gun, so we know that background checks work. This is not about gun control, it is about saving lives and more than nine out of ten Americans agree, criminals should not be allowed to easily purchase guns.
From Sen. Manchin’s friends at the National Rifle Association … well, not so much:
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. While the overwhelming rejection of President Obama and Mayor 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 tragedy in Newtown, Aurora or Tucson. We need a serious and meaningful solution that addresses crime in cities like Chicago, addresses mental health deficiencies, while at the same time protecting the rights of those of us who are not a danger to anyone. President Obama should be as committed to dealing with the gang problem that is tormenting honest people in his hometown as he is to blaming law-abiding gun owners for the acts of psychopathic murderers.
And the West Virginia Republican Party? Here’s what they had to say:
It’s another sad day for West Virginians when our own Senator uses his position to attack the rights of law-abiding sportsmen and gun owners, to try to curry favor with liberal Democrats who seek to make this Constitution and nation weak.
Instead of taking on criminals who break laws, Senator Manchin tries to make laws to hinder freedom. Regardless the details, this attempt to in any way infringe on our Second Amendment rights just reinforces Manchin as someone with no absolute values.
No matter the topic, every issue is subject to negotiation or sale to the highest liberal bidders. Its just another example of how Manchin was willing to say one thing in order to fool West Virginia voters, but is just another Obama supporter when he crosses to Potomac.
And if that’s not enough, there was this, from the website of the National Review:
Conrad Lucas, chairman of the Republican party of West Virginia, who describes Manchin as a “pretty irrelevant United States senator,” suggests two possible explanations. “Either he is showing his true colors” by speaking out on gun control, or else he is “simply trying to suck up and gain favor with the powers that be in the Democratic party,” Lucas says. “And when you’re sucking up to Harry Reid and Barack Obama, you are spitting in the face of West Virginians.”
It’s not clear how trying to do more to keep guns out of the hands of criminal and the mentally ill (perhaps saving the life of someone like the late Mingo County Sheriff).
Even if West Virginia Republican leaders don’t care about the details of the Manchin proposal, perhaps more thoughtful people do … so here are five key things to keep in mind, based on the fact sheet distributed by Sen. Manchin’s office:
1. We don’t know how many additional gun sales would be subject to background checks — The proposal aims to expand the current federal background check to also include purchases at gun shows and to intrastate internet purchases. But the frequently cited figure for how many gun sales nationwide aren’t covered by existing background checks — 40 percent — is pretty old, perhaps outdated and certainly controversial. One study I read last night suggested the number of sales at gun shows is pretty small— perhaps between 4 and 9 percent. Many gun safety advocates say a more effective approach would be to subject all private-party gun sales to screenings that currently apply only to licensed dealers. Six states already do that, and nine others regulate all sales of handguns.
Yesterday, I asked Manchin communications director Jonathan Kott what estimates they have for how many additional gun sales would be subject to background checks under the Manchin-Toomey plan, and he said, “There is really no way to get an exact percentage.” Not for nothing, but one problem here might be that Sen. Manchin’s friends at the NRA have pretty much ended federal government research on gun safety issues. And certainly, Sen. Manchin makes clear that his proposal is not a requirement for “universal” background checks:
As under current law, transfers between family, friends and neighbors do not require background checks. You can give or sell a gun to your brother, your neighbor, your coworker without background check. You can post a gun for sale on the cork bulletin board at your church or your job without a background check.
2. The compromise would reduce significantly the amount of time the FBI has to complete background checks — As The New York Times pointed out in a story today, “when the FBI cannot immediately determine whether would-be buyers have criminal or psychological records that would bar them from owning guns, it is given 72 hours to clear it up.” If the FBI can’t meet that deadline, then the sale is allowed to go through. Last year alone, the FBI estimates that roughly 3,000 firearms wee sold to prohibited buyers through this loophole. But, as the Center to Stop Gun Violence explained regarding the Manchin-Toomey proposal:
… The bill would actually decrease the amount of time the FBI has to process background checks on firearm purchasers at gun shows, despite the fact that experience demonstrates not all background checks can be fully processed within 24-48 hours. We believe it is important to err on the side of public safety in instances where more time is needed to conduct a background check.
3. States would still not be required to submit important records that the FBI needs to conduct complete background checks — The group Mayors Against Illegal Guns explained in a recent report that, “millions of records identifying seriously mentally ill people and drug abusers as prohibited purchasers are missing from the federal background check database because of lax reporting by state agencies.” The Manchin-Toomey bill “encourages states to provide all of their available records” to the system and would “reduce federal funds to states that do not comply,” but it does not mandate reporting by the states.
4. The compromise appears to weaken certain longstanding provisions enacted to curb illegal gun trafficking — Under the guise of fixing “problems in current law that unfair limit the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens, the Manchin bill would allow “dealer-to-dealer sales at gun shows taking place in a state in which they are not a resident.” Here’s what the Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence said about that:
Under this bill, for the first time, Americans would be permitted to buy handguns from licensed dealers outside their home state. This would make it difficult, if not impossible, to enforce licensing and/or registration laws for handgun purchasers in states like New York, California, Maryland, New Jersey and Connecticut.
5. Background checks would be waived for gun buyers who, within the last five years obtained state concealed carry permits — It’s not clear how this affects would-be buyers who have been convinced of a crime or judge mentally ill during the five years since they obtained their state concealed weapons license.
The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence said:
Finally, it is becoming increasingly unclear why a “compromise” is even necessary on background checks. National polling shows that 91% of Americans support universal background checks without exemptions or loopholes. That support extends to even more politically conservative states … There is no need to water down this legislation and riddle it with loopholes and exemptions.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., left, meets in his office with families of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., including Nelba Marquez-Greene, mother of victim Ana Marquez-Greene and Mark Barden, father of victim Daniel Barden, on the day he announced that he reached a bipartisan deal on expanding background checks to more gun buyers, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, April 10, 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)