Toomey, Manchin Reach a Pointless Background Check Compromise


There was some news in Washington this morning as Sens. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) reached an agreement on expanding background checks for some gun sales that will likely be part of the gun control package to come before the chamber in the next week:

Sen. Joe Manchin, West Virginia Democrat, and Sen. Pat Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican, unveiled a measure Wednesday that would require criminal background checks for firearms sales conducted over the Internet and at gun shows — a compromise intended to boost the prospects of gun legislation advancing in the chamber.

The measure is less far-reaching than language originally introduced by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, that would expand background checks to virtually all gun sales.
Mr. Toomey said he does not consider background checks to be “gun control,” describing the measure as “common sense” that would not infringe upon Americans’ Second Amendment rights.

According to the Washington Times, the agreement reached between the two senators would prohibit a gun control registry (gun registration), which has been a source of concern for both pro-Second Amendment groups and the American Civil Liberties Union.

While the deal gives the perception of compromise, which helps both Senate Republicans and the White House, there is nothing here that would have prevented the kind of tragedies that we’ve seen in the news over the last couple of years. The deal is also misleading, as Jacob Sullum explained today at Reason (emphasis mine):

That gloss is misleading on two counts. The current background check requirement applies to sales by federally licensed gun dealers, no matter where they occur. Whether the sale is initiated in a store, online, or at a gun show, a licensed dealer has to do a background check. Conversely, someone who is not a licensed dealer does not have to do a background check, whether the sale is initiated at a gun show, online, or in his kitchen. But contrary to what anti-gun commentators such as New York Timescolumnist Mark Bittman seem to think, you cannot buy a gun online in the same way you can buy a book or a laptop computer. Direct mail-order sales of guns have been prohibited under federal law since 1968. If you find a gun online that you want to buy, you still have to complete the sale in person through a licensed dealer, who still has to conduct a background check. The only legal way around that requirement is to arrange a meeting with a private seller who advertises a gun online and lives in the same state as you.

The National Rifle Association, which has been working on expanded controls to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, issued a statement today against the Toomey/Manchin agreement.

“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,” stated the NRA, the country’s oldest gun rights group. “While the overwhelming rejection of President Obama and Mayor Bloomberg’s ‘universal’ background check agenda is a positive development, we have a broken mental health system that is not going to be fixed with more background checks at gun shows.”

“The sad truth is that no background check would have prevented the tragedies in Newtown, Aurora or Tucson. We need a serious and meaningful solution that addresses crime in cities like Chicago, addresses mental health deficiencies, while at the same time protecting the rights of those of us who are not a danger to anyone,” the statement continued. “President Obama should be as committed to dealing with the gang problem that is tormenting honest people in his hometown as he is to blaming law-abiding gun owners for the acts of psychopathic murderers.”

Whether it was this deal or the holy grail of so-called “universal background checks,” which would have just driven transactions underground, terrible incidents of violence are still going to happen. That’s what no one seems to want to admit.

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