The National Rifle Association (NRA) did not directly condemn a bipartisan deal to expand background checks to gun shows and online purchases or threaten to downgrade lawmakers who vote for such a deal. The organization issued a statement saying that the rejection of “universal” background check agenda is a “positive development” and reiterated its belief that background screenings will not deter criminals.
During a press conference to unveil the agreement, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) didn’t use that word “universal” once and instead pitched their plan as a common sense solution to prevent criminals and mentally ill individuals from obtaining firearms without infringing on the Second Amendment rights of Americans. Under their proposal, individuals who buy firearms at gun shows or online would have to undergo a background check that will be recorded with a federal firearm licensed dealer. “All personal transfers are not touched whatsoever,” Manchin said.
“I don’t consider criminal background checks to be gun control,” Toomey explained, “I think it’s just common sense. If you pass a criminal background check, you get to buy a gun, it’s no problem. It’s the people who fail a criminal background check that we don’t want having guns.”
In its statement, the NRA argued that “[e]xpanding 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,” but Toomey — who has an A rating form the organization — disagreed. “Background checks are not a cure-all by any means, but they can be helpful,” he admitted. “In the 10 year period from 1999 to 2009, 1.8 million gun sales were blocked by the current background check system because people were not qualified to own a gun.”
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has identified “ gun shows as the second-largest trafficking channel for firearms, behind only corrupt federally licensed dealers” and a handful of states already require check at the events. It’s estimated that 30 percent of guns involved in federal gun trafficking investigations are connected to gun shows.
Manchin said that the pair has spoken to the NRA in formulating their proposal and expressed optimism that the agreement could win support from other Republicans. Reps. Pete King (R-NY) and Mike Thompson (D-NY) have announced that they will introduce a House version of the Manchin/Toomey amendment.
Significantly, the NRA did not reference the shooting at Virginia Tech in its statement. In that instance, shooter Seung Hui Cho was able to legally purchase firearms “because he had been ordered to outpatient mental health care, but not been committed to a psychiatric hospital, which would have shown up in the federal database.”
An NRA spokesperson clarifies the group’s statement: “We are opposed to Manchin-Tommey.”