WHEN HE ran for the Senate in 2010, then-West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D) released a campaign ad in which he loaded, aimed and fired a rifle, showing off his endorsement by the National Rifle Association (NRA) before shooting a hole through an unpopular bill. Now Mr. Manchin is one of the architects of a major new compromise on federal gun rules — approval of which is the least Congress can do following the country’s spate of mass shootings.
If everything goes according to plan, the Senate will begin debate Thursday on the first major federal gun legislation to have a real chance in two decades. Before the announcement of Mr. Manchin’s proposal, drafted with Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), the prospects of 60 senators agreeing even to begin that debate were murky. With the compromise plan on the table, the chance that the country will finally get some up-or-down votes on basic gun measures looks better.
The Manchin-Toomey plan would amend a base bill that does three big things — cracks down on gun trafficking, toughens school security and expands federal background checks of would-be gun purchasers. That last required bargaining. Mr. Manchin and Mr. Toomey agreed that background checks should be mandatory in all commercial gun sales — including over the Internet and at gun shows. That’s good. At least 40 percent of private gun sales currently take place without such scrutiny. The nation’s 4,000 yearly gun shows, in particular, have been a notorious hole in the background-check system. But the deal would not require checks in noncommercial, personal transactions. It also tasks licensed gun dealers — not the feds — with keeping records of the checks they facilitate, heading off criticism that the new system would create a national gun registry. We see little reason why all purchasers can’t be subject to background checks, but the deal is still a good one.
But some of the other possible amendments are dangerous. The Post’s Chris Cillizza and Paul Kane point out that the Senate may be tempted to adopt NRA-backed amendments that make the legislation significantly weaker. Instead, lawmakers should go in the opposite direction. They should renew the assault-weapons ban that expired in 2004. If they can’t do that, they should at least limit the size of gun magazines, a no-brainer measure to decrease the lethality of available firearms.
Then there is the House to consider. Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said Wednesday only that he would “review” what the Senate passes. When the nation’s gun laws are in a deadly state of disarray, that’s not good enough.