WASHINGTON, D.C. (KDKA) – It’s not universal background checks on all firearms purchases in the country, but clearly a step towards it.
“I got to tell you, candidly, I don’t consider criminal background checks to be gun control. I think it’s just common sense,” U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, said at a press conference in Washington today.
Toomey has teamed up with West Virginia Democrat U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin to breathe new life into anti-gun violence measures stalled in the Congress.
Both Toomey and Manchin are gun-owners with A-ratings from the National Rifle Association, and they have brokered a compromise that will expand current background checks.
“If it passes, our measure will expand background checks on purchases of firearms at gun shows and over the internet. It would not require record-keeping by any private citizen,” noted Toomey.
The lawmakers said — absent a compromise — Congress might do nothing — and that was unacceptable.
“The events at Newtown — truly the events at Newtown changed us all — and changed our country, our communities, our towns, and it changed our hearts and minds,” observed Manchin.
Under the compromise — just like gun purchases at licensed dealers — all purchases at gun shows, including firearms sold there by private citizens, will be subject to background checks; all internet sales, whether out-of-state or in-state, will require on-line purchasers to get a background check by a licensed dealer; the sale of guns to family, friends, and neighbors do not require background checks; and the federal government is specifically banned from keeping records or creating a gun registry of gun owners.
“The common ground rests on a simple proposition — and that is that criminals and the dangerously mentally ill shouldn’t have guns,” noted Toomey. “I don’t know anyone who disagrees with that premise.”
Manchin said he talked to the strongest Second Amendment gun rights supporters in West Virginia.
“They understand — this is common sense. This is gun sense. We are not infringing on the rights of individual citizens.”
The NRA’s first reaction to the compromise was muted.
Although they called the measure — which contains some long-sought gun provisions they like — a “positive” development — the NRA insisted that expanding background checks would not prevent mass murders like Newtown.
When state law is stronger, as it is in Pennsylvania in some cases, state law will continue. For example, private handgun sales in Pennsylvania must still go through a dealer.
Other senators are part of the compromise, Manchin and Toomey said.
“We have an agreement — Pat and I have an agreement with Sen. Schumer [New York Democrat] and Sen. Kirk [Illinois Republican]. We have agreement on an amendment to keep criminals and the mentally ill and the insane from getting firearms and harming people,” said Manchin.
Under the compromise, all internet sales and all sales at gun shows — even those done privately — will require a background check.
In a satellite interview with KDKA political editor Jon Delano, Toomey insisted this bill is not gun control.
“I don’t think there is any gun control in this bill, Jon, and the reason I say that is that keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and potentially violent mentally ill people is not gun control. That’s just common sense.”
However it’s labeled, the measure will expand background checks — but not to everyone.
“If you’ve got a shotgun and you’ve got a friend and you decide to sell it over the fence in the backyard, that doesn’t require a background check now, and it would not under my legislation,” said Toomey.
Both Toomey and Manchin say states need to do a better job getting the names of all criminals and mentally unstable people into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, called NICS.
“Some states just don’t provide the information that they have about people who are dangerously mentally ill. Some don’t provide the information that they ought to about criminals. So we have a mechanism in this bill to create incentives for the states to provide that information over time,” noted Toomey.
The incentive to get states to beef up their reporting is — no surprise — money.
Manchin says the Virginia Tech shooter, for example, had records that should have put him on the list — but no one had entered his name into the NICS system.
The bill also has provisions the NRA and others have long wanted — like allowing interstate handgun sales from licensed dealers, allowing active military to buy firearms in their home states, and authorizing a recent concealed carry permit in lieu of a background check.
The Senate will begin debate on this and other anti-gun violence measures on Thursday.
Family members of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims have gone to Washington, D.C., to lobby for gun control. One of those is Jillian Soto, sister of Victoria Soto, a first grade teacher who was killed during the shooting rampage.
Jillian Soto talked with KDKA-AM’s Larry and John Wednesday morning about her stand to end gun violence and pass gun control laws like background checks for anyone buying a gun.
Listen to that interview here: