Gun Control Debate: Deal On Background Checks Revealed, But Can It Survive a Filibuster?


A major hurdle has been passed in the quest for a gun control bill to even see the floor of Congress for an up or down vote. On Wednesday, Senators Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) announced in a joint press conference that they have reached a bipartisan deal on background checks.

The deal is significant because Toomey is one of the most conservative members of the Senate (the fourth most conservative according to National Journal). Him signing off on a bill could possibly give other Republicans the cover needed for voting to allow debate to proceed. This would defuse the filibuster threat proposed by 13 Republicans, including Senators Rand Paul (R-K.Y.), Ted Crux (R-Texas), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). But what is exactly in the compromise, and can Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) really get the votes to stop the 13-strong filibuster group?

The primary issue dealt with by the Toomey-Manchin deal is background checks. Their proposal does not go as far as President Barack Obama's wish for universal background checks. It calls for background checks at gun shows and online sales, closing the gun show loophole that supporters of gun control often criticized. However, transfers to family members and some private sales (friends, neighbors, etc.) would be exempt from the background check requirement.

The text of the deal itself is very insistent that it does not ban guns, any specific type of gun, types of bullets, clips, or magazines, or create a national registry. It, in fact, has a section that makes it illegal for the government to create such a registry. It also includes one of President Obama's demands, a commission to study the causes of mass violence in the United States looking at all aspects of the issues, "including guns, school safety, mental health, and violent media or video games."

But this is all for naught if Paul, Cruz, and Rubio just filibuster this whole thing to death, right? Not so fast. 60 votes can overcome a filibuster and there are reports that Reid has at least the 60 needed to overcome the filibuster threat that everyone has been speculating about. Toomey himself is unlike to filibuster his own deal. Already Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) have said they will oppose a filibuster. Other Republican Senators who may oppose a filibuster include Mark Kirk (Ill.), Tom Coburn (Okla.), Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), and Susan Collins (Maine). Several other Republican senators, such as Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.) said that they will oppose a filibuster if relatively open amendments are allowed, a condition Reid has said he will agree to.

With 55 Democratic Senators in the current Senate, Reid could easily get over any filibuster threat with the above numbers. The only uncertainty is how several Democratic Senators up for reelection in 2014 in heavily rural states will vote, such as Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.). But with the above numbers Reid could easily take their deflections and still defuse the filibuster threat. Reid's confidence is such that he has gone forward to schedule a vote Thursday to bring gun control legislation to the floor, setting up a showdown between the filibustering 13 and Reid.

Overall, the Toomey-Manchin deal represents the best opportunity for some form of gun control to pass both houses of Congress. In the House, Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said, "When Pat Toomey puts something out, I always pay attention," and further commented that he supports closing the gun show loophole. Congressman Peter King (R-N.Y.) has said he would propose a similar bill to Toomey-Manchin in the House.

It seems that Harry Reid may have outmaneuvered the most right-wing faction of the Republican Party on gun control. But only the vote on Thursday will tell us the true story.