WASHINGTON — Two pivotal senators announced a bipartisan deal Wednesday on expanding background checks to more gun buyers, an agreement that could build support for President Barack Obama’s drive to curb firearms violence.
U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., said their accord would help keep firearms from criminals and the mentally ill. Subjecting more firearms purchases to federal background checks has been the chief goal of Obama and gun control supporters, who promote the system as a way to prevent criminals and other potentially dangerous people from getting the weapons.
The agreement between two of the most conservative members of each party was expected to make it even likelier that the Senate’s initial vote today to begin debating gun legislation will succeed, despite an effort by conservatives to block consideration of the measure.
Even so, the ultimate fate of gun legislation remains unclear, clouded by opposition from the National Rifle Association and many Republicans and moderate Democrats in the Democratic-led Senate and the Republican-run House. Many critics say the effort would violate the Second Amendment right to bear arms and burden law-abiding gun owners.
“Truly the events at Newtown changed us all,” said Manchin, referring to the Connecticut town where 20 first-graders and six educators were shot down in December, launching the country into renewed debate over gun violence. “Americans on both sides of the debate can and must find common ground.”
“I don’t consider criminal background checks to be gun control,” said Toomey. “I think it’s just common sense.”
In a written statement, the NRA was critical.
“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,” the statement said. It said policymakers should focus on fixing the country’s mental health system and on gang violence.
“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,” the NRA said.