The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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April 11, 2013

Compromise: New gun sale check standard; Manchin says plan will create positive changes

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin is hopeful that an expansion of background checks on gun sales while still recognizing a “gun culture” in some areas will have enough support to make it onto legislation senators are expected to debate and vote on today.

The amendment has been championed by Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who both have “A” ratings from the National Rifle Association.

There are three umbrella points to the amendment: leveling the playing field for gun sales; getting all the names of prohibited purchasers into the background check system; and establishing a National Commission on Mass Violence.

Manchin said the amendment creates “positive changes” and strengthens the rights of law-abiding gun owners. It does not, he added, infringe upon anyone’s Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, take away anyone’s guns, ban any type of firearm, ban or restrict the use of any kind of bullet or any size clip or magazine or create a national registry, which it actually explicitly prohibits.

Manchin told West Virginia media outlets Wednesday afternoon, as a “proud gun owner, ... NRA member, and ... law-abiding gun owner,” the amendment will be the first considered if and when the current proposed gun control legislation is approved by the Senate.

Manchin explained that the legislation up for consideration today has aspects that he supports, such as furthering school safety and penalizing gun trafficking. However, he said he has made it clear to his Senate colleagues that he will not be on board unless the portion about background checks is changed.

As it currently stands, the bill requires anyone who sells a firearm to complete a background check on the buyer. Manchin said, though, the people who created the legislation do not really understand “gun culture,” such as in West Virginia. That culture and tradition can involve giving firearms to family members and selling to a friend or neighbor.

Manchin’s amendment allows the private individual to sell or give away a gun; therefore, not infringing on the individual’s rights. Someone selling at a gun show, however, will have to have a licensed firearms dealer complete a background check on the person wanting to purchase the gun before it can be sold.

Backgrounds checks would also be imposed on intrastate online purchases. Currently, individuals may buy guns from a dealer within his or her own state without going through a background check, which Manchin called a “loophole.”

Enforcement agencies, such as the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, will do compliance checks and those not completing background checks as a law dictates could be charged with a felony, Manchin explained about the amendment. He thinks gun owners and enthusiasts would not want to be charged and convicted with a felony because they would lose their right to legally own firearms.

Also, the Commission on Mass Violence, would be comprised of experts in the fields of guns, mental health, school safety, violence in the media and other aspects of the issue, he explained.  

“While the unspeakable tragedy in Newtown, Conn., has elevated the gun safety conversation, we cannot sacrifice our Constitutional rights out of fear,” Manchin said. “It is our obligation to keep our children safe and to protect our Second Amendment rights — and I truly believe we can and must do both.

“As I have said from the beginning, this is not simply a gun issue. We need to keep guns out of the hands of convicted criminals and the mentally ill while also bringing together a group of experts to look at all aspects of our culture of mass violence. Violence destroys the dignity, hopes and lives of millions of Americans.

“We have a unique opportunity to stop this epidemic here and now — but only if we can put politics aside and take a look at all the aspects.”

Manchin added that he has spoken to some gun dealers in West Virginia and they are on board with the amendment.

Further explanation and detail about the amendment can be found at Manchin’s U.S. Senate website, manchin.senate.gov. Manchin added that he is looking forward to feedback from his constituents.

— E-mail: chiggins@register-herald.com

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