Senators in favor of gun control have rolled back their proposals, but they still don't have enough votes. (AP Photo/Ricardo Moraes.)
So here’s the state of play on the gun control package, which has been subject to intense internal debate in Washington as most of the nation focuses its attention on the horrible bomb attack in Boston: A decent bill still exists, but is being weakened almost literally by the hour.
Right now, the point of contention is on background checks. The original legislation passed out by the Senate Judiciary Committee required near-universal background checks on all weapons transfers, with only very narrow exemptions for immediate family members and short-term transfers at gun ranges and the like. Critically, it also required that dealers keep a record of all those transactions, to help ensure the checks were being conducted and to help track guns used in crimes.
That wasn’t going to fly in the Senate, so Senators Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey came up with a compromise: background checks would be required at all gun shows and intrastate online sales (interstate online sales are already subject to background checks), and their compromise would also keep record-keeping requirements. It’s just that virtually no personal transfers would be subject to a check.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns and other gun control groups backed this compromise, though some criminologists wondered if it would just push the black market for guns even further into the shadows. The ACLU backed it, because it addressed some concerns they had about record-keeping in the original legislation.
Alas, this too seems to be too proactive for the Senate to pass. Most whip counts show only 52 votes for Manchin-Toomey, eight short of the 60 presumably needed to pass. Six red-state Democrats are uncommitted, as are three Republican Senators: John McCain, Dean Heller and Kelly Ayotte. (As Greg Sargent notes, however, it’s not immediately clear if these Senators would actually filibuster Manchin-Toomey or just vote no once a vote is ordered.)
Now a new compromise is being floated: yet another exemption that would allow any gun buyers who live over one hundred miles from a licensed federal firearms dealer to forgo any background checks. The idea is to attract the support of rural-state Senators, particularly in Alaska and North Dakota.