March 18 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Senator Joe Manchin said he wants to work with the National Rifle Association to agree on a proposal for expanded criminal and mental-health background checks for gun purchasers.
The West Virgina Democrat said he’s trying to craft a background-check proposal that can win bipartisan support, including from lawmakers like himself who have backing from the NRA, which opposes new gun regulations.
“We’re hoping that enough people who come from the gun background, such as myself, will step up and speak,” Manchin said at a breakfast today sponsored by Bloomberg View in New York.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said last week he is talking with Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont to determine what type of gun legislation Democrats will bring to the floor next month. Democrats have been pushing for stricter gun regulations since the the Dec. 14 killings of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, though some Republicans have resisted.
The Senate Judiciary Committee this month approved several gun-related measures, including a ban on assault weapons and limits on high-capacity ammunition magazines. That measure has strong opposition in the full Senate and the House. The panel also has endorsed tougher penalties for gun trafficking and an expansion of background checks.
The NRA, which favored expanding background checks as recently as 1999, now opposes any new laws. NRA President David Keene has said a background-check requirement for all private gun sales could prove an onerous burden on law-abiding gun owners. Many gun owners also are concerned that a paperwork requirement could lead to a national gun registry, which is prohibited by federal law.
Manchin has been working with New York Senator Charles Schumer, the chamber’s third-ranking Democrat, and with Republicans Mark Kirk of Illinois and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma to craft a background-check proposal that can draw support from senators of both parties.
To succeed, Manchin said he and other background-check advocates must address a widespread concern among gun owners that expanded background checks could allow the U.S. government to confiscate their guns.
“There’s a lot of hype out there, and that’s what they’re believing,” he said. Manchin said he’s been trying to “give comfort” to people, telling them, “I’m not going to take your guns away, I’m not going to take my guns away.”
Manchin said he hasn’t spoken directly with President Barack Obama about gun control legislation. Following the Newtown shootings, Obama called on Congress to strengthen gun laws.
Requiring criminal and mental health background checks “makes all the sense in the world” and will go a long way “to keep the guns out of the hands of the people that shouldn’t have them,” Manchin said.
Manchin said he will propose creating a federal commission to study the causes of mass shootings like the one in Newtown.
“It takes a culture for someone to use that gun in such a horrific way, and we’ve got to find out what’s happening,” he said. “We need to give people the expertise.”
While Manchin said he hasn’t found an NRA-backed Republican to sign on to his background check proposal, he said “everybody’s still at the table.”
“You would think this horrific, horrific Newtown tragedy would at least make people sit down and look for reasonable points to agree on,” he said. “I’ve got to make sure that I can protect the law-abiding gun owners who use it for the purpose of sporting or defense.”
“I’m really not concerned about my government turning on me,” Manchin said. “So i’m not owning my guns for that purpose.”
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