They started out with a lot in common --
. Sure, one's a Democrat and one's a Republican, but they're both conservatives, both longtime gun owners and both sport an "A" rating from the
But now the two senators share a bigger honor. In the long-lost, problem-solving spirit of the
Granted, expanded background checks are only one element of what's needed to stem gun violence. But Jonathan Lowy, director of the Legal Action Project of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, told me it was, by far, the most important element. Yes, bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines are also critical. So is a crackdown on straw purchases. But if we did only one thing this year, said Mr. Lowy, universal background checks are the key. For a very simple reason. Because, under existing law, criminal background checks are only required for gun sales at licensed gun dealers. In a Jan. 16 speech on gun violence, President
Those who couldn't otherwise buy a gun are well aware of that huge loophole. Before the slaughter at
The Manchin-Toomey proposal isn't perfect. While it would require background checks for all commercially advertised sales of guns, including gun shows, newspapers, magazines and the Internet, it would not require checks for unadvertised gun transfers, like from one family member to another. But, because there are so few of those sales, the bill is still a vast improvement over the status quo and as close to "universal" background checks as we're likely to get.
Most importantly, the Manchin-Toomey plan destroys every phony argument the NRA has raised against expanded background checks. They say they don't work. Nonsense. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, between March 1994, when background checks were required as part of the Brady Act, and December 2008, they prevented 1.8 million criminals and other prohibited purchasers from buying a gun. In 2010 alone, the
The NRA says
Next argument: Having to go through a background check takes too much time and costs too much money. Not true. Since 1998, the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) has conducted 167 million background checks. They consist of one phone call. They cost nothing. And they take less than a minute.
Equally absurd is the NRA's "slippery slope" argument that background checks will automatically lead to a national gun registry which, of course, will lead to federal agents showing up at your door and taking away all your guns. Ain't gonna happen. Background checks have been required at gun stores since 1994, and there's no national gun registry. The NICS, in fact, prohibits retrieval and storage of personal information.
The Manchin-Toomey compromise almost guarantees that some form of gun safety legislation will pass the Senate. That's the good news. The bad news is that it then moves to the House, where Speaker