Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, left, and Republican Sen. Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania announced Wednesday they had reached a bipartisan deal on expanding background checks to gun buyers. / J. Scott Applewhite/AP
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, declined to comment on the Senate compromise on gun background checks, or whether it would get a vote in the U.S. House.
• Boehner has said the House will not take up any gun legislation until the Senate passes a bill. “I want to wait and see what actually passes over in the Senate,” he said, when asked about the compromise. “I’ve made it clear: If the Senate passes a bill, the House will review it.”
WASHINGTON — Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., announced a compromise bill Wednesday that would expand background checks for gun buyers, possibly paving the way for votes this week on a key piece of legislation aimed at reducing gun violence.
“I don’t consider criminal background checks to be gun control. It’s just common sense,” Toomey said. “If you pass ... you get to buy a gun. It’s the people who fail that we don’t want having guns.”
The deal would expand background checks to purchases made at gun shows and online sales of firearms. It would impose penalties on states that do not add records of felons and the mentally ill to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
The agreement would not require private citizens to keep records of gun sales. It would specifically ban “the federal government from creating a national firearms registry” — a key sticking point for the pro-gun rights community.
Background checks are currently required for purchases made through licensed gun dealers.
“We strengthen rights of law-abiding gun owners,” Manchin said, explaining that the background checks are designed “to keep people from having guns who shouldn’t have them.”
Manchin, a red-state Democrat, and Toomey, a blue-state Republican, represent neighboring Appalachian states with strong gun cultures. Manchin said that common ground helped forge a compromise.
But the deal didn’t win over the National Rifle Association, which remains opposed to any expansion of background checks.
“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,” said Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the NRA.
But he did say the private sale exemption in the compromise amendment was a “positive development.” And the NRA did support a second agreement, brokered by Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, to strengthen the penalty for straw purchasers and firearm trafficking.
That came in response to concerns about whether a law aimed at straw buyers — people who intentionally buy guns for those banned from owning them — would ensnare law-abiding citizens who legally buy guns as gifts or raffle prizes.
The proposed amendments come as the Senate prepares to hold a key procedural vote Thursday to allow a vote on the gun legislation, which has been pushed by President Barack Obama in the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children and six adults dead.
Other elements of Obama’s package — particularly a ban on assault weapons and a limit on high-capacity ammunition clips — passed the Senate Judiciary Committee but are not included in the gun bill heading to the Senate floor.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the assault weapons ban did not have the votes to pass, but he will allow it to be offered as an amendment.
The procedural vote is aimed at ending a threatened filibuster by more than a dozen Republicans, led by Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah.