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04/10/2013

News / US Senate reaches deal on background checks

Two key senators have announced a breakthrough deal on the issue of mandatory background checks for gun sales. The agreement will make it illegal to sale weapons at gun shows and online without first conducting a background check on the buyer.

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania announced that they had reached an agreement on the issue Wednesday, just a day ahead of vote on whether the Senate should consider the full gun control package. The measure would close a major loophole in the background check system, and force sellers to vet the buyers they meet at gun shows or online. Analysts say the current system allows up to 40 percent of gun buyers to avoid background checks.

However, the compromise also includes some exceptions. No background checks would need to be conducted for “temporary transfers” of weapons or sales to family and friends.

“It's common sense,” Senator Toomey, an ardent gun rights activist, stated, as quoted by Reuters. “What matters to me is doing the right thing, and this is the right thing.”

His sentiments were backed by Senator Manchin, who is also considered to be a staunch gun rights defender, and who represents a state where the majority of the public opposes attempts to impose gun control.

“Today is just the start of a healthy debate that must end with the Senate and House hopefully passing these common sense measures and the president signing them into law,” Manchin noted.

The agreement also provides for the creation of a 12-member commission to study the causes of gun violence in the United States. It would examine video game and media violence, as well as issues such as school safety, guns and mental health. Six of its members would be appointed by the Senate majority leader, currently Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada, and six would be appointed by the House speaker, currently Republican John Boehner of Ohio.

The issue of gun control came to the fore of the nation’s political debate in wake of last year’s slew of shootings, capped by the tragic Sandy Hook elementary school massacre, in which a lone gunman killed 20 children and seven adults and himself. Barack Obama and his administration have been arguing for stiffening federal gun control laws, including limiting the types of weapons that are legal, closing loopholes in background checks, improving school security and introducing harsher penalties for gun-related crimes.

Universal background checks have been one of the key provisions of the gun control package backed by President Barack Obama. While the agreement may win support from both sides of the aisle, other features of the legislation are much more controversial. The ban on rapid-firing assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines, the other two main clauses of the package, has been opposed by both Republicans and Democrats, and therefore faces an uphill struggle to win in a general vote in the Senate, not to mention the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

Nevertheless, with up to 90 percent of the public supporting the expansion of background checks, many Republicans have thrown their support behind the mandatory background check clause. A number of conservative Republicans promised to filibuster any vote on gun control legislation.

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