Gun Control Debate: Can Toomey-Manchin Pass the Senate?


Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) appeared on the Sunday talk shows to discuss the provisions of their gun control bill. The bill would expand background checks to include gun shows, internet sales, and commercial transactions. Does the bill actually go far enough though, or is it still too mired with loopholes? 

Toomey is a staunch conservative, rated as the fourth most conservative member of the Senate, so his support for expanded background checks came as a bit of a surprise. Gun control opponents responded in their predictable fashion, by lashing out harshly at Toomey on Facebook and elsewhere. Toomey — who represents the increasingly blue state of Pennsylvania — knows that it will serve him well politically to back something that 9 out of 10 Pennsylvania voters support. Expanded background checks have been just about the only thing that members of Congress have been able to agree the slightest bit on when it comes to gun control. Toomey's backing of this bill probably saved the gun control legislation from a fairly certain political death.

On State of the Union Manchin claimed that, “law abiding gun owners will like this bill.” Something he repeated as he made the Sunday show rounds. Whether this legislation has a life past the Sunday morning talk shows will depend on how much leeway gun lobbying groups give legislators. It will determine how 'free' conservative members of the Senate feel when considering this legislation.

With Candy Crowley, both Senators walked a fine line between condemning the tactics by the NRA and calling for greater cooperation. Pat Toomey called the bill a responsible common sense approach to gun control. The bill would allow for the exemption of private transactions. Earlier on the show, John McCain said that he would probably support the bill. A vote is expected this week according to Sen. Pat Toomey. 

The pair then appeared on Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer. Manchin met with family members from Newtown at the end of last week where he was overcome by emotion. As the two attempt to garner more Republican support for the bill they touted the bills protection of second amendments rights. Manchin admitted that despite their NRA ‘A’ rating, the NRA won’t support them on this. Toomey and Manchin both said they weren't concerned with the political repercussions of supporting this bill. Schieffer was quick to bring up one of the problems facing any piece of gun control legislation, which will be the mountain of amendments introduced as riders. The problem with that — Schiffer pointed out— is that some amendments could actually weaken current gun controls as opposed to strengthening them. 

The criticisms of the bill say that it doesn’t go far enough in expanding background checks. How accurate is that though? All advertised private background checks would require background checks. That doesn’t mean that there are not serious issues with the gun control compromise. The private-sale loophole, as it is known, isn’t closed with the Manchin-Toomey bill. Make no mistake, the provisions of this bill do not equate to universal background checks. 

Adam Winkler of The Daily Beast addresses some of the bills many issues. Individuals at gun shows can easily circumvent the required background checks by leaving the gun show and going to a nearby parking lot. 

“Gutted laws can’t possibly be effective. Manchin-Toomey will just be the latest example. But, hey, gun-control advocates will always be able to say they did “something” to reduce gun violence.”

It's obvious that both Toomey and Manchin are incredibly sincere in their efforts, both have met with the families of Newtown which has made an obvious impact on them. The pair will continue to work together as they attempt drum up more support for the 49-page bill. Does it do enough to expand background checks? No. Is it an important part of the political process to see these two individuals coming together to discuss gun control? Yes.

The gun control debate truly crystallized in what the two chose to say as they spoke to the Sunday talk show hosts. They spoke most emphatically to conservative Democrats and Republicans when they asked them to simply read the bill. If one of the most impassioned pleas you can make is to get members of Congress to read a bill, it says a lot about the current state of the gun control debate. 

To read the text of the proposed expanded background check bill, please go here.