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Senators offer bipartisan gun background-check proposal

Two U.S. senators announced a bipartisan plan to expand background checks of gun purchasers, boosting the prospects of broader Senate legislation to curb firearm violence.

The agreement will “prevent criminals and the mentally ill from getting firearms and harming people,” Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, told reporters yesterday with Sen. Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, at his side.

“I don’t consider criminal background checks to be gun control; it’s just common sense,” Toomey said. “It’s the people who fail a criminal or mental health background check that we don’t want having guns.”

Toomey’s backing may help draw the support of Republicans and Democrats from pro-gun states. Manchin has an “A” rating from the pro-gun-rights National Rifle Association. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, scheduled a procedural vote today on the gun legislation, which also would crack down on firearms trafficking and increase funding for school safety.

The measure is a scaled-back version of a gun-safety agenda President Obama proposed after 20 children and six adults were killed in a Dec. 14 shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. Obama’s proposals to renew a ban on assault weapons and limit the size of ammunition magazines were dropped from the Senate bill because of a lack of support from lawmakers.

If the legislation with expanded background checks passes the Democratic-led Senate, it would face opposition in the Republican-run House. “We’ll wait and see what the Senate does,” Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, told reporters yesterday.

Toomey and Manchin’s plan would expand current law to require background checks for gun sales over the internet and between private parties at gun shows. Noncommercial person-to-person firearms sales wouldn’t be covered.

“Nothing in our amendment prevents the ownership of guns by any lawful person,” Toomey said.

While Democrats wanted to require background checks for almost all gun sales, some supporters said the approach by Toomey and Manchin would be a good compromise.

“I want it as comprehensive as can be,” Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, said Tuesday. Even so, “if you took care of online sales and gun shows, it would be significant.”

Toomey said some fellow Republicans “are very interested in learning more” and are “open to considering whether they will embrace the proposal.” Still, he said, it was too early to predict whether it would get enough votes. “It’s a fluid situation,” Toomey said.

Manchin said in an interview that the legislation’s biggest obstacle is “paranoia.”

“People are just leery of government overreaching and they’re just saying ‘do nothing,’ ” Manchin said. “That’s always a safe vote here in Congress.”

Still, Manchin said he won’t support the broader Senate bill if it doesn’t include his and Toomey’s proposal. Toomey said he wanted to see which amendments were adopted before saying how he would vote on a final bill. Sen. Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican, also was part of yesterday’s agreement, though he didn’t attend the news conference.

In a statement, the NRA said that “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.”

The statement stopped short of urging senators to vote against Manchin and Toomey’s proposal. The Fairfax, Va.– based group says it has 4 million members.

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