The National Rifle Association has made it clear that it doesn't like the Manchin-Toomey bill, which would extend background checks to gun shows and online sales. And the NRA has reason to be afraid: Republican senators, including Mark Kirk (Ill.), Susan Collins (Maine), and John McCain (Ariz.), have all joined its Republican co-author Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) in supporting the bill.
An even bigger shock came when the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms (CCRKBA) publicly backed the bill, according to Politico. At 650,000 members, the CCRKBA claims to be the second biggest gun-rights group in the country. True, that's only a fraction of the NRA's 5 million members, but the fact that a gun-rights group that has opposed background checks in the past is now on board with Manchin-Toomey could be crucial in getting the necessary 60 votes in the Senate.
Why would a major gun-rights group support a gun-control bill? Partly because they helped write it, as a video posted by No More Mister Nice Blog explains:
That's the group's chair, Alan Gottlieb, telling attendees at a dinner in Portland, Ore., that "we're taking the background check bill and making it a pro-gun bill." He went on to explain that, despite opposing more background checks, he thought much of the bill would actually increase access to guns:
To be perfectly candid about it, [the bill] states in it that no guns can be registered. It also carries a section in it that any federal or any state or any gun dealer with access to the NICS Check Records who misuses those records for registration purposes commits a felony with... up to a 15 year prison term. That's really great protection for us.
Right now, a lot of Veterans are being disarmed, so to speak, once they come back from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan and, all of a sudden, because they... had stress problems the VA now turns their name into the NICS system they can't own a gun. This new bill, this background check bill, has a provision in it to eradicate that.
Another important one, you cannot now legally buy a handgun in a state that you don't live in. If you're not a resident of the state you can't buy a handgun. Under the so-call "background check bill," you'll be able to buy a handgun in all 50 states, as long as you buy it from a licensed dealer.
Gottlieb later reiterated the same points in an email to CCRKBA members, according to Slate. Despite what Gottlieb has stated about the bill, the NRA is still adamantly against it. NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam told CNN.com that it would be a "scored vote," meaning that senators' NRA ratings would be affected by how they voted on the Manchin-Toomey bill.
The threat of an NRA downgrade coupled with "an impending immigration bill may force Republicans to choose between softening their stance on either immigration or guns, but not both," notes The New York Times. As The Hill points out, the bill, which has been publicly endorsed by President Obama, needs the support of at least five Republicans and all 55 Democrats to pass the Senate. Sen. Toomey summed it up neatly, saying, "I think it's going to be close."