Toomey, Manchin Negotiations Signal Gun Bills Not Dead Yet

Background checks face significant hurdles, but lawmakers working to get a deal.


Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. is working behind the scenes to pass a bill requiring universal background checks for gun purchases.

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Two senators, aware that background checks are hanging by a thread, have teamed up behind the scenes to hammer out a background check bill that closes loopholes without putting unrealistic burdens on law-abiding gun owners. But they have to find a compromise fast, before Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., introduces a package of gun-control bills this week.

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Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., is negotiating with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to get "universal" background checks across the finish line.

While polls show Americans strongly support the provision, the bill's language makes lawmakers skittish the bill could inadvertently target the wrong people.

According to the Washington Post, Toomey and Manchin are working to draft legislation that would close the so-called gun show loophole and more closely regulate Internet gun sales. But the proposal would address GOP concerns the original bill put unnecessary restrictions of families who wanted to share firearms for hunting and recreational purposes. The current language prohibits family members from borrowing guns from each other for longer than seven days without a background check. A "bona fide gift" is the only way a family member can give a gun to a spouse or child permanently without administering a background check. The new language being worked out would allow family members to transfer their firearms to relatives for recreational use if he or she has a valid hunting license.

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If Manchin and Toomey, who both hold strong National Rifle Association ratings, can successfully negotiate a deal on background checks, it would significantly increase the probability that the Senate could pass the key gun provision. Manchin could appeal to Democratic senators facing reelection in red states like Arkansas and Montana. While Toomey's involvement could keep a dozen GOP senators who are threatening to filibuster the universal background check legislation at bay.

Background checks are just one of three measures Reid will introduce on the floor this week to curb gun violence. Reid will bring a school safety bill, which would allocate more federal grant money to finance school safety initiatives, to the floor as well as introduce a bill that would make the purchase of a gun for someone who cannot legally obtain one, also known as straw purchasing, a federal crime.

Toomey and Manchin are not the first to try and come to an agreement on background checks. Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., worked together on a compromise bill last month, but failed to find a middle ground on the record-keeping portion. The current law, as written, requires unlicensed firearm dealers to keep records, something GOP senators are reluctant to support because they say it could lead to the creation of a national registry.

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As Congress weighs gun bills, the White House is not backing down on its public outreach to put pressure on the body. President Barack Obama will speak in Connecticut Monday where the state's legislature passed some of the strictest gun-control measures in the country last week after the Newtown shooting.

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