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Why the NRA is scared of the new background-check bill
Sens. Pat Toomey and Joe Manchin unveil a bipartisan bill that would expand background checks to gun shows and online sales
Sens Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) present their bipartisan compromise on gun legislation on April 10.
Sens Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) present their bipartisan compromise on gun legislation on April 10. Allison Shelley/Getty Images
T

he NRA may end up regretting the "A" rating it gave to Pat Toomey. Minutes after the Republican senator from Pennsylvania and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) revealed their new bipartisan background-check bill on Wednesday morning, the NRA released a statement denouncing background checks as ineffective and unfair to gun owners.

Gun-control proponents have been watching Toomey and Manchin carefully to see if they'd be able to reach a compromise. Now that they have, the NRA faces one of its most daunting challenges yet.

Why is this announcement such a big deal?
Because this political coalition actually has a fighting chance of passing this piece of gun-control legislation. Manchin's home state of West Virginia ranks fifth in the nation in gun ownership, according to Guns and Ammo, so his support for the bill might just convince reluctant gun owners to get behind the measure. Toomey, for his part, is thought to bring with him the votes of 13 House Republicans from his home state of Pennsylvania. He did carefully note, though, why he supports the checks: "I don't consider criminal background checks to be gun-control," said Toomey. "It's just common sense." 

Greg Sargent of The Washington Post marvels at the political power of "two 'gun rights' Senators — one a Republican, and one a red state Democrat, both with A ratings from the NRA — jointly calling for real action on guns, and describing it as a moral imperative on behalf of our children." 

What's in the bill?
It'll expand background checks to gun shows and online sales. As of now, only sales from licensed gun dealers require background checks, which leaves out 20 to 40 percent of all gun sales, according to The New York Times. The senators' proposal does not, however, include a background-check requirement for private sales and transfers of firearms between family members.

The bill also mandates record-keeping of background checks by licensed dealers, which law enforcement officials say "are needed to ensure that the rules are followed and to help trace weapons used in crimes," according to Bloomberg.

Why does the NRA hate it?
Here's what the group said in opposition to the legislation:

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 … The sad truth is that no background check would have prevented the tragedies in Newtown, Aurora or Tucson. 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. [via TPM]

While it's difficult to say whether this new proposal would thwart the next shooter, what is pretty clear is that, according to a new Quinnipiac poll, 91 percent of Americans (and 88 percent of Americans in gun-owning households) do favor universal background checks. John J. Donohue, a law professor at Stanford, argues on CNN.com that the NRA continues to oppose the measure because they "don't want anything that interferes with total gun sales and profits." The organization also has insinuated that universal background checks are "a first step toward a more sinister goal," namely the confiscation of firearms by the U.S. government, which, as The Week columnist Paul Brandus points out, is illegal.

What's probably most worrisome to the NRA, though, is that the Toomey-Manchin bill could be the most serious push to expand current laws that the U.S. has seen in a long time.  

Keith Wagstaff is a staff writer at TheWeek.com covering politics and current events. He has previously written for such publications as TIME, Details, VICE, and the Village Voice.

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