WASHINGTON -- The National Rifle Association on Wednesday called a Senate compromise deal on expanded background checks "a positive development," but stressed the ongoing need for a "serious and meaningful solution" that addresses urban crime and deficiencies in the mental health system. In a follow-up statement emailed to The Huffington Post, the gun lobby emphasized its overall opposition to the deal.
The NRA response came as a bipartisan deal to expand background checks on gun sales was announced Wednesday morning by Republican Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.) and Democrat Joe Manchin (W.Va.). As part of the deal, the senators announced the intent to create a commission to study violence in society. While the NRA opposes "Toomey-Manchin," as the deal is known, the addition of a violence commission was seen as a win for the gun rights group, and may have helped to soften the tone of the NRA's response to the Senate compromise.
The nation's largest gun rights lobby said in a statement that "expanding background checks at gun shows will not prevent the next shooting," and "no background check would have prevented" recent massacres in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo.
The group also took a swipe at President Obama, who strongly supports gun control measures, saying he should, "be as committed to dealing with the gang problem that is tormenting honest people in his hometown as he is to blaming law-abiding gun owners for the acts of psychopathic murderers."
The NRA's relatively subdued response helps clear the way for a number of conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans in the Senate to support the deal, as this and other gun control measures are debated in the Senate over the next few weeks. Until now, fear of the gun lobby's powerful campaign apparatus was holding a number of senators back from supporting a compromise deal, according to top Senate aides involved in the negotiations. Manchin and Toomey are both gun owners, and both senators have "A" ratings from the NRA, facts that were surely not lost on their colleagues.
It remains to be seen what impact a vote in favor of the compromise deal could have on senators facing tough reelection battles in 2014. The NRA, whose A through F ratings carry weight with millions of voters, has not said whether or not it will "score" lawmakers based on their votes on upcoming gun control legislation, although it's hard to imagine a set of votes more closely related to the NRA's purpose than these.
One conservative political group, Heritage Action, has already announced that it will score lawmakers based on their votes in the coming weeks. In a statement in early April, Heritage said the group strongly opposes Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's gun control proposal (of which the Toomey-Manchin deal will be part), and it warned lawmakers that it plans to "include [votes on the bill] as a key vote(s) on our legislative scorecard."
Heritage CEO Michael A. Needham reiterated the warning, saying in a statement that "To be clear, lawmakers will not get a pass on any bill that infringes on the constitutional rights of the American people. " Needham added that he was especially disappointed in Pat Toomey, the deal's Republican backer.
Read the full NRA statement here:
Expanding background checks at gun shows will not prevent the next shooting, will not solve violent crime and will not keep our kids safe in schools. While the overwhelming rejection of President Obama and Mayor Bloomberg's "universal" background check agenda is a positive development, we have a broken mental health system that is not going to be fixed with more background checks at gun shows. The sad truth is that no background check would have prevented the tragedy in Newtown, Aurora or Tucson. We need a serious and meaningful solution that addresses crime in cities like Chicago, addresses mental health deficiencies, while at the same time protecting the rights of those of us who are not a danger to anyone. President Obama should be as committed to dealing with the gang problem that is tormenting honest people in his hometown as he is to blaming law-abiding gun owners for the acts of psychopathic murderers.
This story has been updated with a follow-up statement from the NRA.
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