Over the weekend, in a move that may shock the gun community, an influential pro-gun organizations publicly endorsed the universal background check amendment drafted by Sens. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Joe Manchin (D-WV).
The Citizens Committee for the Right To Keep and Bear Arms announced that it would back the Manchin-Toomey UBC legislation; a bipartisan amendment that expands background checks to gun purchases made over the Internet and eliminates the so-called ‘gun-show’ loophole.
“We decided to back it because we believe it is the right thing to do,” Julianne Versnel, director of operations for the CCRKBA, told the Washington Post.
Alan Gottlieb, the chairman of the CCRKBA, blasted out an email to the group’s 650,000 members on Sunday explaining in greater detail why they opted to support the Manchin-Toomey compromise.
“If you read the Manchin-Toomey substitute amendment, you can see all the advances for our cause that it contains,” Gottlieb wrote.
Gottlieb then pitched the specific perks the amendment contains: “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.”
Gottlieb added that the “advances” in the legislation could not be achieved “unless we win the Senate vote on Tuesday to substitute Sens. Manchin and Toomey’s balanced approach” to background checks.
When compared to the current language on background checks in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s baseline bill, which was penned by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the Manchin-Toomey amendment is much less restrictive in that it has background check exemptions for transactions and sales between friends, family and neighbors (for more on the details, click here).
These exemptions have been a major sticking point for the pro-gun control community. Josh Horwitz, the executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, told Business Insider that his organization is very concerned about the exemptions.
“We want people to understand that [under the Manchin-Toomney legislation] there will still be private sales without background checks, which we think is a problem. Not all criminals buy guns at gun shows or the Internet. A lot of them just go to their friends,” Horwitz said. “That’s why you have to have universal background checks.”
Following the CCRKBA announcement, Manchin appeared on Fox News to tout the growing support for the 49-page proposal.
“You can imagine for what, the last two or three months, that all you heard is they’re going to take this away from you and that away,” Manchin said.
“And the bottom line is when you have a group now — Alan Gottlieb, the chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, said, ‘We read the bill, we like the bill’ and it protects law-abiding gun owners like myself. And they are supporting it now. That is huge.”
Yet, not everyone is on board with it. Last week Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) expressed his skepticism about the amendment, telling his constituents that it’s “unworkable and unfair to gun owners” because of the potential costs associated with running all Internet and gun show transactions through an FFL, “visitors to … gun shows across America will face a new tax of $30 to $50, and sometimes more, as they exercise their constitutional right to buy a gun.”
It’s not yet clear how members of CCRKBA or its sister organization, the Second Amendment Foundation, will react to news of the endorsement. Nor is it clear how the nation’s gun lobby, the National Rifle Association, will respond to CCRKBA’s decision to embrace gun control reform. Will the NRA eventually follow suit?
Thus far, at least one other gun rights group has backed the Manchin-Toomey proposal, the Independent Firearm Owners Association.
Thoughts and commentary
At the 2013 SHOT Show I spoke with Mr. Gottlieb. I asked him what he thought about the push for universal background checks and here’s what he told me:
“I’ll be honest, I don’t have a problem with background checks if they’re done right. The problem’s been in the past where it wasn’t about ‘universal background’ checks but about universal registration. That is, the government wants to keep the records and the data.”
He added that when it comes to this piece of legislation, the “devil is in the details.”
Well, it appears that the details in this Manchin-Toomey amendment pass muster with Gottlieb. And I have to admit; I’m inclined to trust his judgment.
Though, I also have to point out that just last Wednesday, in a press release entitled “CCRKBA calls for Universal Background Checks on All Elected Officials” Gottlieb was deeply critical of the notion of background checks as a means to prevent crime.
“If politicians want universal background checks, we should start with them,” said Gottlieb.
“If you compare percentages,” he continued, “the rate of criminal activity by politicians is probably far higher than the rate of crimes committed by the general public.
“What this underscores,” he said, “is the reason gun laws don’t work and never will. People who make the laws we have to live under break them anyway, just like criminals routinely disobey gun laws. Based on their own experience, politicians should know that the gun laws they pass will not prevent crime.”
All that said, what are your thoughts? Did CCRKBA do the right thing?