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Gun rights group endorses background-check bill

In anticipation of Senate votes this week on a proposed expansion of background checks for firearms sales, one gun rights organization broke with the powerful National Rifle Association yesterday to urge support for a compromise drafted by Sens. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, and Patrick Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania.

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 yesterday 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 most 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.

There were other signs of momentum on gun control legislation over the weekend, included a tentative expression of support for the Toomey-Manchin compromise yesterday from Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, an endorsement by Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, 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 of Illinois – 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.

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