WASHINGTON - Those purchasing guns at gun shows or online would be subject to criminal and mental health background checks through licensed gun dealers under a compromise announced Wednesday by Sens. Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey.
But the proposal by Manchin, D-W.Va., and Toomey, R-Pa., would exempt non-commercial transactions from background checks. For example, a gun owner could give a firearm to a relative without a background check, Manchin said.
Background checks bar people convicted of felonies or who have been declared mentally ill in court from purchasing firearms, but they currently are only required of those purchasing guns in commercial gun shops.
The Public Safety and 2nd Amendment Rights Protection Act authored by Manchin and Toomey also seeks to strengthen the existing instant check system by encouraging states to put all available records into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, and establishes a National Commission on Mass Violence to study in-depth all the causes of mass violence in the United States.
The measure is a compromise intended to counter stricter requirements proposed by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., that would require background checks for all gun transactions. Manchin said he could not support Schumer's proposal.
"He doesn't understand our culture of guns," Manchin said. "My father may have given me a gun, and maybe I want to give my son a gun. ... This does take into account our gun culture and that you shouldn't abuse the law-abiding gun owner doing nothing wrong. What we should do is take the guns from the people who shouldn't have them, and that's what we do - simply that."
Schumer's comprehensive background check proposal is one of three components that make up an overall gun law bill to be debated in the Senate today, Manchin said. The other two parts of the bill seek to strengthen anti-trafficking laws and establish school safety policy in light of recent gun violence in schools across the nation.
A cloture vote to end debate on the bill is expected today. If 60 senators agree to end debate, the Manchin-Toomey measure can be added to the overall bill as an amendment. If the amendment is approved, it would replace Schumer's proposal.
Schumer has indicated he would support the compromise amendment, according to Manchin and Toomey.
"Criminal background checks are just common sense," Toomey said. "If you pass a criminal background check, you can buy a gun. It's the people who fail a criminal or mental health background check that we don't want having guns. That can be done without infringing on law-abiding people's gun rights. And we ought to do it."
Both Manchin and Toomey are gun owners with an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association.
The NRA on Wednesday countered that "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. ...We have a broken mental health system that is not going to be fixed with more background checks at gun shows."
"We need a serious and meaningful solution that addresses crime in cities like Chicago, addresses mental health deficiencies, while at the same time protecting the rights of those of us who are not a danger to anyone," the group continued. "President Obama should be as committed to dealing with the gang problem that is tormenting honest people in his hometown as he is to blaming law-abiding gun owners for the acts of psychopathic murderers."
The White House also released a statement from the president.
"This is not my bill, and there are aspects of the agreement that I might prefer to be stronger," Obama 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."