Thursday, December 12, 2013
By TOM HAMBURGER and ED O'KEEFE The Washington Post
WASHINGTON - In anticipation of Senate votes this week on a proposed expansion of criminal background checks for firearms sales, one gun rights organization broke with the powerful National Rifle Association on Sunday to urge support for a compromise drafted by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Patrick Toomey, R-Pa.
The endorsement by the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms -- which calls itself the second-largest gun rights organization in the country behind the NRA, claiming 650,000 members and supporters -- is one of several moves over the past few days that have provided a boost to the hopes of proponents of background checks.
While leading gun-control advocates -- including President Obama and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg -- back the bipartisan proposal, the announcement of support Sunday from the Citizens Committee reveals that there are substantial parts of the bill that are viewed as "wins" for the gun lobby, including provisions that would prohibit a government registry of gun ownership and make it easier to transport and market weapons across state lines.
Though news of a split in the usually unified gun lobby cheered gun-control advocates, the gun lobby can count other probable wins in the current debate, such as the likely defeat of legislation to limit military-style assault weapons and ammunition clips. Now, an expansion of background-check requirements for gun sales is considered the most likely major achievement.
Initially, gun-control advocates hoped for passage of a requirement for background checks of individuals purchasing a gun in almost any circumstance. Currently, background checks are conducted only for purchases made from licensed gun dealers. The compromise measure, drafted by Toomey and Manchin, would require background checks for currently exempt online and gun show sales but not for most other private transactions.
Other signs of momentum on gun control legislation over the weekend included a tentative expression of support for the Toomey-Manchin compromise Sunday from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., endorsements by both Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, and indications of backing from several House Republicans, including some who have had previous endorsements from the NRA.
Officially, only three Republican senators -- Toomey, Collins and Mark Kirk, Ill. -- have said they plan to vote for the Manchin-Toomey agreement. Democratic aides say the bill will need the backing of at least six Republican senators to pass.
The measure still has a long and tortuous path, with dozens of amendments to the gun bill expected. The Senate is scheduled to begin formal debate Tuesday by first considering the plan to expand the gun background-check program.
Sixteen Republican senators voted late last week to proceed to debate, but several of them and some moderate Democratic senators said they are unlikely to support the bill's proposed compromise amendments. It is not known how many amendments will be considered by the Senate over the next two weeks. For the past few days, the Toomey-Manchin proposal has received nearly all the attention.
A decade ago, the NRA backed expanded background check legislation, but it now stands firmly opposed. An NRA spokesman reiterated the group's opposition Sunday evening and again promised to score the Senate vote on the compromise in making future election endorsement decisions.
The group that backed the bill, the Citizens Committee, has far fewer members than the 4 million claimed by the NRA. It was founded in 1972 and functions as a kind of sister organization to the Second Amendment Foundation, a legal think tank and law firm based in Bellevue, Wash., that, along with the NRA, has been a leader in filing major court challenges to halt restrictions on gun rights.
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