April 15, 2013

Gun rights group splits with NRA, backs deal

A bill to expand background checks has some 'wins' for the gun lobby, the endorsement shows, heartening supporters.

By TOM HAMBURGER and ED O'KEEFE The Washington Post

(Continued from page 1)

"We decided to back it because we believe it is the right thing to do," said Julianne Versnel, director of operations for the group.

The chair of the Citizens Committee, Alan Gottlieb, told supporters in an email Sunday that the group would embrace the Manchin-Toomey compromise. He urged members to read the senators' proposal to understand why the gun rights group would back it.

Gottlieb made clear in his email that he enthusiastically backs the bill the NRA opposes.

"If you read the Manchin-Toomey substitute amendment, you can see all the advances for our cause that it contains," Gottlieb wrote. He then listed the gun rights advantages in the bill: "interstate sales of handguns, veteran gun rights restoration, travel with firearms protection, civil and criminal immunity lawsuit protection, and most important of all, the guarantee that people, including federal officers, will go to federal prison for up to 15 years if they attempt to use any gun sales records to set up a gun registry."

These "advances" cannot be achieved, Gottlieb wrote, "unless we win the Senate vote on Tuesday to substitute Senators Manchin and Toomey's balanced approach" to background checks. Gottlieb, like other gun group leaders, opposes a more far-reaching background-check bill proposed by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. The organization has already been in touch with individual Senate offices. Some have already rejected its argument.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who voted to proceed with debate, labeled the Manchin-Toomey agreement "unworkable and unfair to gun owners" in a message sent to constituents late last week. Because the plan would require gun purchasers to pay for a background check, "gun shows across America will face a new tax of $30 to $50, and sometimes more, as they exercise their constitutional right to buy a gun," Coburn said, adding that gun owners "will ignore and reject these changes."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., hopes to hold an up-or-down vote on the Manchin-Toomey plan by midweek and then proceed to vote on other amendments, according to senior Senate aides familiar with the plans.

Reid also is expected to call for a roll call on Democratic-backed amendments, including the plan to ban military-style assault weapons, the aides said. A vote on the proposed ban, which is sponsored by 22 Senate Democrats, is expected to fall far short of the 60 votes needed to ensure final passage. Regardless, aides said Reid wants to hold a vote on the proposal early in the gun debate in order to fulfill his promise to Obama; the plan's lead sponsor, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; and gun-control groups that supported the ban.

Reid also hopes to hold a vote on a Democratic plan to limit the size of ammunition magazines, another proposal expected to fail, aides said. From there, he could proceed to a host of proposed amendments, including a bipartisan plan to provide more federal funding for mental health programs that assist military veterans, a Coburn proposal to establish an online portal for gun buyers to conduct their own background checks, a Republican plan to change the legal definition of mentally ill people when it comes to gun crimes, and an overarching GOP alternative to the underlying gun bill.

Gun-control advocates are worried about some of the expected amendments authored or backed by the NRA, including one that would provide a "national reciprocity" arrangement in which a gun owner who receives a permit to carry a concealed weapon in any one state would then be allowed to do that anywhere in the country.

Meanwhile, Reps. Peter King, R-N.Y., and Mike Thompson, D-Calif., plan to introduce on Monday a House version of the Manchin-Toomey agreement that mirrors the bipartisan Senate deal.

King, who represents a suburban Long Island district, said he hoped the Senate deal would extend background checks to include most private firearms transactions but that "there's no sense of making the perfect the enemy of the good these days."

"Rather than reinventing the wheel, we adopted Manchin's plan because we thought that any bill that passes the Senate could pass the House," King said in an interview Sunday.

Only King and Thompson are sponsoring the bill, but other House Republicans who represent suburban districts in the Northeast and Midwest are expected to sign on if the proposal advances in the Senate, King said.

Separately, Republican House members from Pennsylvania with past NRA endorsements indicated support for the Toomey-Manchin approach, including Reps. Michael Fitzpatrick, Patrick Meehan and Charlie Dent.

In a sign of the continuing wait-and-see attitude in the House, King said he has had no formal discussions with House Republican leadership or the House Judiciary Committee about his bill or when gun legislation will begin to move in the chamber.


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