Gun control debate: Background checks for gun buyers win more backing

WASHINGTON - With the Senate set to begin debate on gun control legislation this week, a proposal to expand background checks for gun buyers picked up some key Republican support over the weekend. But it may not be enough to ensure the measure is adopted.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine issued a statement Sunday saying that she would vote for the compromise crafted by Sens. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. The proposal requires background checks for people buying guns at gun shows and online, but exempts private gun sales.

The plan would "strengthen the background check system without in any way infringing on Second Amendment rights," Collins said. But Collins took a wait-and-see approach on the entire package, saying "it is impossible to predict at this point the final composition of the overall legislation."

Arizona Sen. John McCain, who has a B+ rating from the National Rifle Association, said he was "very favorably disposed" to the Manchin-Toomey compromise. It was in McCain's home state that a gunman with schizophrenia shot then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in the head during a 2011 rampage in Tucson that left six people killed.

Even with their support, the vote on the measure -- expected as early as Wednesday -- will be close.

"It's an open question as to whether or not we have the votes," Toomey said.

Asked how many votes he thought he had now, Manchin said, "Well, we're close. We need more."

Collins and Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois are the only two Republicans besides Toomey who are expected to vote for the compromise as of now.

It will take 60 votes to pass, meaning that more Republicans will have to come on board because some Democrats from gun-friendly states are expected to oppose the measure.

The measure requires background checks for people buying guns at gun shows and online. Background checks currently apply only to transactions handled by the country's 55,000 licensed gun dealers. Private transactions, such as a sale of a gun between family members, would still be exempt.

Advocates say the measures would make it harder for criminals and the mentally ill to get weapons.

Opponents argue that the restrictions would violate the Constitution's right to bear arms and would be ignored by criminals.

Manchin urged lawmakers to read the 49-page proposal.

"If you are a law-abiding gun owner, you're going to like this bill," Manchin said. "Now, if you're a criminal or if you've been mentally adjudicated and you go to a gun show or try to buy a gun online, you might not like this bill because you can't do it."

Manchin later noted that one gun rights group, the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, has announced support for his plan.

And later Sunday, the Manchin-Toomey compromise was endorsed by the Independent Firearms Owners Association, a pro-gun group that is smaller and more moderate than the NRA.

The bill is the right way to "stand firm in defense of our constitutional rights and the security of our fellow citizens," said the group's president, Richard Feldman, a former NRA official.

The senators' agreement actually includes language expanding firearms rights by easing some restrictions on transporting guns across state lines, protecting sellers from lawsuits if buyers passed a background check but later used a gun in a crime and letting gun dealers conduct business in states where they don't live.

The compromise, if successful, would be added to broader gun control legislation to strengthen laws against illegal gun trafficking and to slightly increase school security aid.

Other additions to the legislation also are expected to be debated this week, including a measure that would allow concealed hand gun permits issued by one state to be accepted nationwide as a de facto background check.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said on several news shows that concealed weapons permits should be applied nationally. He also called for more prosecution of people that are trying to buy guns and fail a background check.

The Senate is also expected to consider, and reject, Democratic amendments to ban assault weapons and ammunition magazines carrying more than 10 rounds.

Manchin and Toomey were on CNN's "State of the Union" and CBS' "Face the Nation." McCain was on CNN.

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