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How about broadened background checks?

DURING the 2010 special U.S. Senate election in West Virginia, then-Gov. Joe Manchin ran an ad in which he used a rifle to shoot a hole in the cap-and-trade bill.

It was an effective ad that killed two birds with one stone: It helped separate Manchin from President Obama's anti-coal energy policies and allowed him to tout his "A" rating from the National Rifle Association.

"As your senator, I'll protect your Second Amendment rights," Manchin said in the ad.  "That's why the NRA endorsed me."

Today Manchin's standing among some gun rights supporters is more tenuous than it was three years ago, because he has inserted himself in the middle of a fierce and emotional Washington debate over gun control.

The junior senator has learned that even having the conversation about gun control following the Sandy Hook massacre and raising the prospect of additional gun laws makes you a target.

For example, the National Association for Gun Rights is running ads against Manchin. In a news release, executive vice president Dudley Brown accuses Manchin of promoting a gun registration system.

That's a stretch.

Manchin is working on a compromise bill with three other senators: Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.; Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill. and Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

Manchin says his goal is to broaden the background check system. Currently, licensed firearms dealers must run background checks, but private transactions, such as gun show sales, are excluded.

Manchin believes that change will help keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill, while protecting Second Amendment rights.

"We're not talking about anybody taking anybody's guns away," Manchin told the Wall Street Journal. "All I'm talking about is doing a criminal and mental background check."

Opponents believe expanding the checks is a first step toward gun registration, which is anathema to the gun lobby.

However, Manchin says the legislation would explicitly prohibit the federal government from creating a registry and imposes serious criminal penalties for anyone who misuses or illegally holds gun records.

It's logical and reasonable that if gun buyers at federally licensed dealers have to go through background checks, then other purchasers should be subject to the same rules.

Nobody is talking about taking away guns or creating a federal registry. This would be a modest step to help keep criminals and the mentally ill from getting their hands on firearms.

Manchin's problem is that he needs Republican help.

Without more support from the other side of the aisle, Manchin and other pro-gun Democrats won't be able to push through a compromise gun bill that extends the background checks.

Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast by the MetroNews Statewide Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. The show can be heard locally on WCHS 580 AM.


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