Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Manchin-Toomey: A major misfire

The AP reports that, an hour from now, Sens. Joe Manchin (Sad about being a D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) will present their compromise on background checks. If the details that have leaked thus far are accurate, it's nowhere near acceptable:

The emerging deal would expand required background checks for sales at gun shows and online but exempt transactions like face-to-face, noncommercial purchases, said Senate staffers and lobbyists, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private talks. Currently, the checks are required only for sales handled through licensed gun dealers.

Though many details of the emerging agreement were unclear, Manchin and Toomey are among their parties’ most conservative members and a deal could make it easier for some hesitant senators to support the background check measure, at least for now.

Some Republicans might vote to begin debate on the legislation but eventually oppose the measure on final passage. Other parts of Obama’s gun effort already seem likely to face defeat, including proposed bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

This might be useful for breaking a filibuster, but it's pretty useless otherwise.

I accept that the assault weapons ban is dead on arrival (and said as much to Time Magazine), and I'm resigning myself to the idea that the high-capacity magazine restriction is probably going to be defeated as well. After all, those measures only enjoy around 58-59% public support.

Universal background checks--criminal history and mental health checks for every gun purchase, whether made at a dealer or a gun show or out of the back of a Subaru--consistently poll around 90% support. I can't think of any active legislation that's more popular.

Yet here come Manchin and Toomey, exempting a huge number of face-to-face transactions. I could live with exempting gifts between immediate family, but to say that I can sell a gun to a stranger in a parking lot and not have to run a background check is to leave one huge goddamn hole in the background check system.

Years ago, people conflated the "gun show loophole"--a rule that allowed licensed dealers to move inventory into their "private collections" and then sell those guns at gun shows without conducting background checks--with the problem of face-to-face sales conducted by non-dealers. So now, all Manchin and Toomey have to do is include sales at gun shows in their bill, and people will think the problem is solved.

It isn't. This might be useful for getting past the filibuster, but this would make terrible, weak law, in an area that's begging for real reform. Every sale needs a check, and any bill that falls short of that is inadequate.

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