Deal on gun control a small victory in a long campaign for advocates

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), alongside Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Penn.), unveiled a bipartisan deal to expand background checks to all commercial sales of guns on Wednesday. (The Washington Post)

A group of senators has reached a deal to expand background checks on gun purchases, opening the way for a floor debate on gun control. The proposal excludes unadvertised sales between individuals but includes all commercial sales:

The agreement forged by Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) would be more stringent than current law, which requires checks only when purchases are made through a licensed dealer, but less strict than the requirements originally sought by President Obama and congressional Democrats, who were seeking to expand background checks to nearly every kind of sale.

Some observers believes tthe Democrats’ apparent failure to achieve their goals on gun regulations is in large part a result of the National Rifle Association’s tenacious lobbying:

The NRA’s recent successes on Capitol Hill — as well as a string of victories in state legislatures across the country — demonstrate the effectiveness of the group’s strategy to overcome a post-Newtown tilt toward gun control. The organization has drafted and circulated legislation, mobilized its members and continued to put pressure on politically vulnerable lawmakers. At the same time, groups attempting to promote stricter gun- control measures have faltered.

New restrictions that a couple of months ago seemed possible, even likely, such as bans on assault weapons and universal background checks on gun purchases, are now in doubt.

Many of the more stringent proposals are supported by a majority of people, according to polls. Speaking in Connecticut Tuesday, Vice President Biden called on Congress to follow public opinion:

Biden expressed angry dismay that a group of U.S. senators had threatened to filibuster a vote on gun-control proposals less than four months after the Sandy Hook shooting. . .

“The public is so far beyond where the Congress is,” Biden said. ‘It’s time for them to say what they think should or should not be done to diminish the possibility of another Sandy Hook.”

The Fix notes that even though the agreement is a victory for advocates of gun control, there are still obstacles to the bill’s passage:

An open amendment process to the gun legislation might well doom it.

“Republicans are eager to get into an open amendment process so that they can turn a responsible gun control bill into a round of NRA-backed amendments that only need 51 votes to approve,” warned one senior Democratic operative. . .

It’s easier to imagine amendments favored by gun rights advocates generating the 51 votes needed to be added to the main legislation than amendments on things like renewing the assault weapons ban or limiting (or outright banning) high capacity magazines.

Post opinion writer Kathleen Parker argues that the measures under discussion would have no real effect:

Nothing proposed in the gun-control debates would have prevented the mass killing of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and everybody knows it. At best, tighter gun laws will make us feel better. . .

In a country with an estimated 250 million to 300 million guns, imposing new laws on honest people is problematic and bureaucratically complicated. Add to the conundrum our politics of individual freedom combined with the exploitation of emotion to craft what is likely an impotent solution, and it is little wonder our congressional leadership is bamboozled.

For coverage of news in the controversy over guns from earlier this week, continue reading here.

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Max Ehrenfreund is a blogger on the Financial desk and writes for Know More and Wonkblog.
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