Manchin spearheads background check expansion on gun buys
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A new measure championed by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin calls for expanding background checks for guns purchased at trade shows or online.
Officially termed the "Public Safety and Second Amendment Rights Protection Act," Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., introduced the measure Wednesday.
"Back home where I come from, we have common sense, we have nonsense and now we have gun-sense, and that's what we're talking about," Manchin said Wednesday during a press conference in Washington.
Current law requires a gun buyer to undergo a background check if he or she is buying from a licensed dealer. Many non-licensed dealers attend gun shows, and purchases from these dealers do not require checks.
Manchin's proposed change calls for all sales at gun shows to require a background check.
"You'll be treated the same at a gun show as you would at a gun store," Manchin said.
Not all online gun sales are covered by current law.
An online sale between residents of the same state does not require a background check. That "loophole" would be closed, Manchin said.
The bill goes a long way to protect the rights of law-abiding gun owners, Manchin said in a phone call late Wednesday.
It still would allow "personal transfers" of firearms: friends, neighbors or coworkers could still sell or trade guns without a background check, according to a checklist posted on Manchin's website explaining the amendment.
Anyone who had obtained a valid concealed carry permit would also not have to submit to a background check because obtaining the permit already requires one.
Licensed dealers still would have to maintain a record of background checks, but Manchin said the measure expressly prohibits the federal government from creating a registry with the information.
It also would create penalties for states that failed to submit information to the national system in a timely manner.
Such a delay appears to have allowed the man accused of fatally shooting Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum to purchase a gun.
Mingo County Prosecutor Michael Sparks told The Associated Press an "inexcusable delay" in the reporting system allowed Tennis Melvin Maynard to buy the gun he allegedly used to kill Crum.
Manchin said he was not aware of the circumstances of the Mingo case but emphasized the need for speedy reporting.
If a background check didn't process within three days, the sale would be allowed to proceed under current law. Manchin's measure would shorten that period to 48 hours, with a provision to reduce it to 24 hours once the National Instant Criminal Background Check System improves.
The bill also establishes the "National Commission on Mass Violence" Manchin has advocated since the December massacre in Newtown, Conn.
Manchin said he was in constant contact with West Virginians Wednesday and most seem supportive of the measure after learning of its provisions.
The West Virginia Republican Party does not support the bill. In a prepared statement, GOP Chairman Conrad Lucas called Manchin's measure an attempt to "hinder freedom."
"No matter the topic, every issue is subject to negotiation or sale to the highest liberal bidders," Lucas said in the statement.
"It's 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 (sic) to Potomac."
In an article in the conservative magazine National Review, Lucas also questioned whether Manchin was "sucking up" to national Democratic leadership.
"And when you're sucking up to Harry Reid and Barack Obama, you are spitting in the face of West Virginians," Lucas is quoted as saying in the article.
That's not the reaction Manchin said he received from Republicans in West Virginia about the measure. He said he doesn't think rank-and-file Republicans agree with party leadership and encouraged everyone to the read the amendment before forming an opinion.
National pro-gun organizations blasted Manchin and Toomey.
The Gun Owners of America called the amendment the "See a shrink, lose your guns" bill, regarding provisions that address mental health. The National Rifle Association has given Manchin an "A" rating, but it also voiced displeasure Wednesday.
"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 posted on its website.
Keith Morgan, president of the West Virginia Citizens Defense league, declined comment.
Manchin asked NRA members to read the measure and encouraged the organization to put the full amendment on its website once the information is available. He said the full amendment would be available online today.
Nationally, President Barack Obama, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others congratulated Manchin and Toomey on the background check expansion. Obama said he didn't think the changes went far enough but were a genuine sign of bipartisan cooperation to reduce gun violence.
Other members of the West Virginia congressional delegation gave mixed reviews.
Manchin said he spoke with all of them to let them know he was announcing the amendment, and hoped they would reserve judgment until reading it.
U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., said in a statement it was premature to discuss how the bill would fare in the House.
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said everyone shares a desire to protect children but didn't say whether she supported the amendment.
"However, we have existing laws on the books that aren't being enforced and punishing law-abiding citizens or creating ineffective laws is not the answer," she said in an emailed statement.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va, commended Manchin and Toomey.
"I'm hopeful that it will help clear the way for the Senate to fully consider gun safety legislation and hold a vote," he said in a statement from a spokesman.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has called for action on a larger bill concerning gun rights today. Manchin said Wednesday he expected his amendment to be the first proposed.
He thanked Toomey for his help. Toomey, who Manchin called one of the most conservative Republicans in the Senate, said the background check expansion is a "common-sense issue" and not about gun control.
Although Toomey said he knew some Senate and House Republicans were in favor of the changes, he told CNN, "I don't know in the end how many will support it.