In what Congress-watchers call a "stunning breakthrough," the powerful National Rife Association and Senior Democrats on Capitol Hill have cut a deal that will strengthen background checks on those buying firearms.
Called a "marriage of convenience," the deal marks an unusual alliance between traditional enemies in the longtime battle over federal gun control legislation.
Writes Jonathan Weisman of The Washington Post:
Senior Democrats have reached agreement with the National Rifle Association on what could be the first federal gun-control legislation since 1994, a measure to significantly strengthen the national system that checks the backgrounds of gun buyers.
The sensitive talks began in April, days after a mentally ill gunman killed 32 students and teachers at Virginia Tech University. The shooter, Seung Hui Cho, had been judicially ordered to submit to a psychiatric evaluation, which should have disqualified him from buying handguns. But the state of Virginia never forwarded that information to the federal National Instant Check System (NICS), and the massacre exposed a loophole in the 13-year-old background-check program.
Under the agreement, participating states would be given monetary enticements for the first time to keep the federal background database up to date, as well as penalties for failing to comply.
To sign on to the deal, the powerful gun lobby won significant concessions from Democratic negotiators in weeks of painstaking talks. Individuals with minor infractions in their pasts could petition their states to have their names removed from the federal database, and about 83,000 military veterans, put into the system by the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2000 for alleged mental health reasons, would have a chance to clean their records. The federal government would be permanently barred from charging gun buyers or sellers a fee for their background checks. In addition, faulty records such as duplicative names or expunged convictions would have to be scrubbed from the database.
"The NRA worked diligently with the concerns of gun owners and law enforcement in mind to make a . . . system that's better for gun owners and better for law enforcement," said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), a former NRA board member, who led the talks.
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) had been pushing similar legislation for years. But her reputation as a staunch opponent of the gun lobby — she came to Congress to promote gun control after her husband was gunned down in a massacre on the Long Island Rail Road — ruined any chance of a deal with the NRA.
By contrast, this agreement is a marriage of convenience for both sides. Democratic leaders are eager to show that they can respond legislatively to the Virginia Tech rampage, a feat that GOP leaders would not muster after the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado. Meanwhile, the NRA was motivated to show it would not stand in the way of a bill that would not harm law-abiding gun buyers. Even so, it drove a hard bargain to quiet its smaller but more vociferous rival, Gun Owners of America, which has long opposed McCarthy's background-check bill.