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Senators announce gun deal, raising hopes of Senate passage


A bipartisan pair of senators introduced a compromise proposal to expand background checks on Wednesday, an agreement which could form the basis for major gun control legislation to potentially pass through Congress.

Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. – who both enjoy top ratings from the National Rifle Association – outlined an agreement that would expand background checks to include most firearms sales, including those at gun shows and online.

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While the new framework does not go quite as far as the stricter gun controls first advocated by President Barack Obama in the wake of December’s Newtown, Conn., shootings, it paves the path for Senate approval of one of the president’s major second term initiatives.

“Truly, the events of Newtown changed us all,” Manchin said at a press conference announcing the agreement. “This amendment won't ease the pain ... but nobody here – and I mean not one of us in this great Capitol of ours – can sit by and not try to prevent a day like that from happening again.”

White House senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer explains whether the White House considers the Toomey/Manchin deal a strong amendment and whether there are any loopholes.

Related: NRA a constant presence in background check deal

The agreement won the support of a key proponent of new gun legislation, New York Sen. Charles Schumer, the No. 2 Senate Democrat who said he planned to co-sponsor the new agreement. Schumer called Vice President Joe Biden, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Mark Kelly (the husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz.) and various gun safety groups to urge them to support the compromise, as well.

In a statement issued later Wednesday afternoon, Obama said that he applauded the agreement. 

"This is not my bill, and there are aspects of the agreement that I might prefer to be stronger," the president said. "But the agreement does represent welcome and significant bipartisan progress. It recognizes that there are good people on both sides of this issue, and we don’t have to agree on everything to know that we’ve got to do something to stem the tide of gun violence."

The background check deal made several tweaks to the prior Democratic proposal, namely by striking a provision requiring states to recognize concealed carry permits from other states, and eliminating another measure exempting sellers who sell five guns per year or fewer from the background check requirement.

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, D-W.Va., left, and Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., arrive at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, April 10, 2013, to announce that they have reached a bipartisan deal on expanding background checks to more gun buyers.

The proposal also includes other provisions meant to allay gun-rights advocates' concerns about background checks. Namely, the legislation would not require background checks for intra-family transfers of firearms, and would apply existing record-keeping rules used for gun stores to those weapons sold online or at gun shows.

But the NRA quickly criticized the new proposal as inadequate, a pronouncement which could influence the decision-making of wavering lawmakers.

“Expanding background checks at gun shows will not prevent the next shooting, will not solve violent crime and will not keep our kids safe in schools,” said the gun rights group. “The sad truth is that no background check would have prevented the tragedies in Newtown, Aurora or Tucson.”

(Democratic aides still think the NRA might not necessarily throw its full weight behind opposing the proposal, though, especially because the gun rights group's representatives were a near-constant presence during the Manchin-Toomey talks.)

Still, the bipartisan nature of the agreement could improve prospects for its approval by the entire Senate, especially if the Obama administration should throw its weight behind the proposal. Support from Toomey (as well as Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk, another swing-state Republican) could entice other GOP senators to support the compromise.

Senator James Inhofe, R-Okla., expresses doubt on the Senate floor as to whether enhanced background checks would help combat gun violence in the U.S.

“I’m a gun owner, and the rights that are enshrined in the Second Amendment are very, very important to me personally,” Toomey said alongside Manchin on Capitol Hill. “But I’ve got to tell you, candidly, that I don’t consider criminal background checks to be gun control. I think it’s just common sense.”

The first test of that support will come on Thursday, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he planned to hold a key vote to move forward with the gun debate. A group of conservative senators – including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. – had vowed to filibuster any gun legislation, though their ability to wage one successfully was undercut by several other Republicans, who said they would not support such a maneuver.

Already, groups on opposite sides of the gun debate have aligned for or against the Manchin-Toomey proposal.

Americans for Responsible Solutions, the group founded by Kelly to support gun control, said it was “pleased” by the new agreement.

“We will do everything in our power to ensure that Americans know about the determined leadership of Sen. Manchin, a conservative Democrat, and Senator Toomey ... to keep this common sense legislation moving,” said Pia Carusone, the group’s executive director.

But the conservative Heritage Action also issued a statement on opposition to the gun deal, a declaration that could weigh heavily on Republicans in the House, where any Senate legislation awaits an uncertain future.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, talking on Wednesday about the forthcoming Senate accord, was noncommittal about bringing up a prospective gun bill for a vote.

"As I've made clear, any bill that passes the Senate, we're going to review it. In the meantime, we're going to continue to have hearings looking at the source of violence in our country," Boehner said at a press conference. "It's one thing for two members to come to some agreement; it doesn't substitute the will of the other 98 members."

Raising hope, though, for House support was another bipartisan pairing, Reps. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., and Peter King, R-N.Y., who hailed the Manchin-Toomey agreement, and said they planned to work to introduce similar legislation in the lower chamber. 

"This legislation is enforceable, it will save lives, and it respects the Second Amendment rights of law abiding Americans," the lawmakers said in a joint statement.

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