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US firearms lobby divided over ‘gutted’ gun-control bill

US firearms lobby divided over ‘gutted’ gun-control bill
The self-described second-largest gun rights group in the United States has split with the National Rifle Association (NRA) by throwing its support behind a bill that would expand background checks on gun sales.

The Citizens Committee for the Right to Bear Arms (CCRKBA), which boasts around 650,000 members, sent an email to supporters saying it would back bipartisan gun control legislation drafted by Senators Joe Manchin III (D-W.VA) and Patrick J. Toomey (R-PA), the Washington Post reported.

Dubbed the Public Safety and Second Amendment Rights Protection Act, the compromise bill seeks to broaden background checks to include gun shows and online sales of firearms. The proposal is set to go before the Senate by midweek. The act will be the first amendment voted on in a broader Democratic bill that will also seek to make gun trafficking a federal crime, and provide more federal funding for school security programs.

In March, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid dropped proposals from the bill introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA.) that sought to ban military-style assault weapons and high capacity magazines. The Senate will now vote on both bans as separate amendments to the broader bill, though their passage remains unlikely.

The Manchin-Toomey background check deal has gathered support from both sides of the gun control debate, with the CCRKBA arguing that the proposal favors the pro-gun side.

“If you read the Manchin-Toomey substitute amendment, you can see all the advances for our cause that it contains like interstate sales of handguns, veteran gun rights restoration, travel with firearms protection, civil and criminal immunity lawsuit protection, and most important of all, the guarantee that people, including federal officers, will go to federal prison for up to 15 years if they attempt to use any gun sales records to set up a gun registry,” the CCRKBA’s Sunday statement read.

The ban on federal authorities setting up a national gun registry – a record of every firearm legally owned in the country – will likely resonate strongly with gun owners. The issue is so divisive, Rep. Jess Duncan (R-SC) compared such a registry to the Rwandan genocide in a Facebook post on Thursday: “Read about the Rwandan genocide, the Hutu and Tutsi tribes. Read that all Tutsi tribe members were required to register their address with the Hutu government and that this database was used to locate Tutsi for slaughter at the hands of the Hutu.”

Duncan argued that government access to the names and addresses of nearly all Tutsis in the country, coupled with the fact that they were issued identity cards outlining their ethnicity, empowered “the killers could go door to door, slaughtering the Tutsis. Not with firearms, mind you, but with machetes… I use this example to warn that national databases can be used with evil consequences.”

While the Machin-Toomey bill would expand background checks for commercial transactions involving firearms, it will exempt family gifts and transfers, leaving the so-called ‘private-sale loophole’ open.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) championed the compromise bill as a commonsense approach after throwing her support behind it on Sunday. Collins is the third Republican to publically announce her support for the proposal. Democrats say the proposal will need to enlist the support of at least six Republican Senators to pass.

The bill also seeks to “strengthen” the existing check system by “encouraging states” to put all their available records into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. It further proposes the establishment of a National Commission on Mass Violence “to study in-depth all the causes of mass violence in our country.”

However, separate amendments limiting military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines are likely to fall by the wayside.

The CCRKBA’s endorsement comes just days after the group sent out a press release heaping scorn on the notion of wider background checks, and insinuating that politicians are the real criminals. “If politicians want universal background checks, we should start with them,” CCRKB chair Alan Gottlieb was quoted as saying on Wednesday.

“If you compare percentages, the rate of criminal activity by politicians is probably far higher than the rate of crimes committed by the general public,”
he said, adding that “these people want to know why there’s a run on guns and ammunition.”

The NRA – with its membership of 4.5 million – remains vastly more influential than the CCRKBA, despite this rare split in the gun lobby’s ranks. On Wednesday, the NRA released a statement saying that the proposal was misguided, and that “expanding background checks, at gun shows or elsewhere, will not reduce violent crime or keep our kids safe in their schools.”

Despite the NRA’s stated opposition to the proposal, Adam Winkler wrote an editorial in the Daily Beast arguing that the Manchin-Toomey compromise  actually benefits the NRA: “It’s an example of what gun-control advocate Dennis Henigan calls the ‘gun-control Catch-22.’ The NRA forces lawmakers to gut a proposed law, leaving it with gaping loopholes. Then, when the law predictably fails to meaningfully reduce gun violence, the NRA cites it as evidence gun control doesn’t work.”