The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Latest News

February 9, 2013

Manchin pushing tougher gun-buy background checks

— A cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s drive to check gun violence is gathering bipartisan steam as four senators, including two of the National Rifle Association’s congressional champions, privately seek compromise on requiring far more firearms purchasers to undergo background checks.

The talks are being held even as Obama’s call to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, the two other major pillars of his plan, are hitting rough waters on Capitol Hill. An agreement among the four senators to expand background checks would add significant impetus to that high-profile proposal by getting the endorsement of a group that ranges from one of the Senate’s most liberal Democrats to one of its most conservative Republicans.

“We’ll get something, I hope. I’m praying for it,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., one of the participants.

Manchin, a moderate Democrat, is an NRA member who aired a 2010 campaign ad in which he literally shot a hole through Democratic environmental legislation that he pledged to oppose.

Also involved are Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., another NRA member with a strong conservative record but occasional maverick impulses; No. 3 Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer of New York, a liberal; and moderate GOP Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois.

Background checks are required only for sales by the nation’s 55,000 federally licensed gun dealers, but not for private purchases like those at gun shows, online or in person. There are few indisputable, up-to-date statistics on how many guns change hands without background checks, but a respected study using 1990s data estimated that 30 percent to 40 percent of gun transactions fit into that category.

The senators’ talks have included discussions about how to encourage states to make more mental health data available to the federal system for checking gun buyers’ records, according to people who spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to describe the private negotiations. They are also considering potential exemptions to expanded background check requirements, including transactions involving relatives or people with licenses to carry concealed weapons.

Congress has been focusing on guns since the December massacre of 20 first-graders and six adults at a school in Newtown, Conn.

While an expansion of background checks is expected to be a key part of any gun control bill Leahy produces, a version of that provision with bipartisan support could give the entire package a boost.

It is likely that any gun-control bill will need 60 votes to pass the 100-member Senate. Democrats have 55 votes, including two Democratic-leaning independents.

Leaders of the GOP-run House are planning to see what, if anything, the Senate passes before moving on gun legislation. Strategists believe that a measure that passes the Senate with clear bipartisan support could pressure the House to act.

The political impact the four senators could have by reaching agreement stems from who they are.

If Coburn embraces an agreement, that could help win over other conservative Republicans at a time when the GOP is responding to its White House and congressional election losses of last November by trying to broaden its national appeal.

In an Associated Press-GfK Poll last month, requiring more background checks got overwhelming public support, compared to just over half who backed bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

“The whole goal is to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and criminals,” Coburn said in a brief interview.

Manchin’s support could make it easier to win backing from other Democratic senators from GOP-leaning states, many of whom face re-election next year and who have been leery of embracing Obama’s proposals.

“If the language is meaningful, it would be obviously a huge step,” said Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, which represents child welfare, religious and other groups favoring gun curbs. “To have someone like Coburn, who’s voted consistently with the gun lobby, to come out and endorse a meaningful background check would be very helpful.”

Schumer and Kirk each have “F” scores from the NRA for their voting records in Congress, while Coburn and Manchin have “A” ratings.

Though widened background checks are given the strongest chance for enactment of Obama’s major proposals, it is opposed by the NRA and many congressional Republicans.

“My problem with background checks is you’re never going to get criminals to go through background checks,” Wayne LaPierre, NRA executive vice president, told the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.

According to Justice Department estimates, the federal and state governments ran 108 million background checks of firearms sales between 1994 when the requirement became law and 2009. Of those, 1.9 million — almost 2 percent — were denied, usually because would-be purchasers had criminal records.

People legally judged to be “mentally defective” are among those blocked by federal law from firearms purchases. States are supposed to make mental health records available to the federal background check system and receive more generous Justice Department grants if they do, but many provide little or no such data because of privacy concerns or old record-keeping systems.

People following the discussions say the talks have touched on:

-- The types of family relatives who would be allowed to give guns to each other without a background check.

-- Possibly exempting sales in remote areas.

-- Whether to help some veterans who sought treatment for traumatic stress disorder — now often barred from getting firearms — become eligible to do so.

1
Text Only
Latest News
  • legion VIDEO: American Legion posts plan to merge

    To help deal with its decreasing membership numbers, Beckley American Legion Post 70 is planning a merger with Post 32.

    “We see the benefit for both of us and for Raleigh County,” Post 32 Adjutant Frank Cook said. “Right now Post 70 is having membership problems and with membership problems comes financial problems.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • Tri-state coal interests rally before hearings

     More than 2,000 union workers and others organized by the coal industry in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia joined top state elected officials Wednesday to rally against proposed stricter federal pollution regulations for coal-burning power plants.

    July 31, 2014

  • legal Tort reform group brings message to Beckley

    How can West Virginia create more jobs and have a better business climate, at no cost to taxpayers?

    Greg Thomas, executive director of the West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (WV CALA), says legal reform is one of the answers to that question.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • ‘Biscuit guy’ makes his mark with anthem at TWV

    The old saying “being at the right place at the right time” couldn’t be more true for Calvin Alexander.

    Thanks to a salad dressing bottle (and some impressive vocal skills), Alexander was invited to sing the national anthem not once, but twice, at Theatre West Virginia before the opening of “Hatfields and McCoy

    July 31, 2014

  • Judge in W.Va. asked to delay gay marriage ruling

    Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has asked a judge to postpone ruling on a federal lawsuit challenging West Virginia's same-sex marriage ban until the U.S. Supreme Court reviews a ruling in a similar case in Virginia.

    July 30, 2014

  • Tri-state coal interests rally before EPA hearings

    More than 2,000 union workers and others organized by the coal industry in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia joined top state elected officials Wednesday to rally against proposed stricter federal pollution regulations for coal-burning power plants.

    July 30, 2014

  • Work continues on stand-alone Warrior Trail

    The executive director of the Hatfield and McCoy Trail Authority said Tuesday that officials are still working toward the creation of the stand-alone Warrior Trail in McDowell County.

    July 30, 2014

  • East River Mountain Tunnel repairs will continue for several weeks

    Motorists traveling Interstate 77 could see slight delays again tonight as repair work continues inside of the fire-damaged East River Mountain Tunnel.

    July 30, 2014

  • State leaders to attend coal rally in Pittsburgh

    West Virginia officials are set to join hundreds of coal miners and coal supporters at an electricity and energy jobs rally.

    July 30, 2014

  • Americans continue to be plagued by debt

    Credit card debt may have reached its lowest level in a decade, but according to a recent study on personal debt vs. income, just as more people are paying off their credit card debt monthly, nearly the same number of people are being reported for unpaid bills. 

    July 30, 2014