Getting consensus in Washington on gun control is more difficult than fans of WVU and Pitt finding common ground. However, there is one point everyone involved in the gun debate can agree on.
President Trump is the key.
West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin and Pennsylvania Republican Senator Pat Toomey are again pushing legislation that would expand background checks to include most private transactions. Under current law, purchases through a licensed dealer are subject to background checks.
The Senators first introduced the bill after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that left 20 children and six adult staffers dead. The bill fell six votes short of the 60 needed for passage in the Senate, and only four Republicans voted for the bill.
Manchin believes one of the reasons it failed then was because Barack Obama was President and 2nd Amendment advocates believed the legislation opened the door for Democrats to add more gun restrictions. However, Manchin now says with Trump as President, more Republicans would be willing to back the legislation.
“The President truly is the leader on this,” Manchin told MetroNews. “He sets the tone.” However, it’s not clear where Trump stands on the Manchin-Toomey bill.
In public comments after the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Trump indicated support for more background checks. “I’m looking to do background checks,” he told reporters just before he left to visit both cities. “I think background checks are important. I don’t want to put guns into the hands of mentally unstable people or people with rage or hate—sick people. I’m all in favor of it.”
That opened the door for Manchin and Toomey to talk with Trump about their bill. However, in his most recent comments, Trump seems to have cooled to the idea. Sunday, he said the focus should be on “a very big mental health problem,” and he added, “We do have a lot of background checks right now.”
Manchin said on Talkline Monday he hopes to have another chance to meet with the President and bring him back to his side, but he’s competing with the powerful voices of the National Rifle Association.
The Washington Post reported that after Trump expressed interest in expanded background checks, he spoke with NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre. According to the Post, LaPierre told Trump he would lose the support of his base if he backed the Manchin-Toomey bill.
The Post also reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will not bring any gun control legislation to the floor without widespread Republican support, and that won’t happen without Trump’s backing.
The Manchin-Toomey bill is the most modest gun control measure imaginable. Put simply, it expands background checks to most individuals who buy a gun from someone other than a licensed dealer. The bill includes exemptions for transfers between immediate and even extended family members.
Notably, it also corrects some problems in the current law that, according to Manchin’s office, “unfairly limit the 2nd Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners.”
However, gun owners take constitutional rights seriously and many see any additional gun control measures as illegal infringements. Senate approval of Manchin-Toomey would be tough enough, even with Trump’s support. Without Trump’s backing, the bill has zero chance.