Editorial: Common ground on gun safety

Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va, left, and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., speak to reporters Wednesday about a proposed compromise on gun safety legislation.
Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va, left, and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., speak to reporters Wednesday about a proposed compromise on gun safety legislation.
Published April 10, 2013

A reasonable compromise that would keep more guns out of the hands of criminals, the mentally ill and others who are already legally barred from owning a firearm could move forward in the Senate as early as today. The legislation, which would expand existing background checks of gun buyers, is hardly the complete answer to increasing public safety. But it is a step that nine in 10 Americans support. Sen. Marco Rubio should reconsider joining other Republican senators in attempting to stall the bipartisan legislation and side with sensible Floridians rather than the National Rifle Association.

Today's expected vote is a procedural move that requires 60 senators to agree to begin debating a series of gun control proposals. Two key senators announced a bipartisan deal Wednesday that calls for expanding background checks to more commercial gun sales. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., said the measure would prevent more criminals and others who are not legally allowed to own a firearm from obtaining one. The agreement also would establish a bipartisan panel to address mass violence, which could lead to a more robust response to the Newtown, Conn., school massacre and other recent tragedies.

The compromise bill does not go as far as the nation should by outlawing assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. It doesn't even meet President Barack Obama's goal of expanding the background checks to virtually all gun sales. But the measure would help close the loophole that enables 20 percent to 40 percent of all gun sales to proceed without a background check. Under the bill, background checks would be required for all commercial sales, including those at guns shows and online. The sales would be handled through federally licensed firearms dealers, who would record the transaction. Private sales and transfers, such as those between friends and family, still would be exempt. The compromise also would expand Second Amendment rights by making it easier to buy and move firearms across state lines.

Congress and the American people cannot debate the merits of the compromise legislation or ways to strengthen it until lawmakers clear the way for bringing a bill to the floor. That is the only way a better and more uniform system of gun safety can advance. Opening debate also will force lawmakers to leave their parliamentary foxholes and declare whether their first allegiance is to the public or the NRA, whose only answer so far to the continuing gun violence is to arm more Americans.

If Rubio wants to maintain the status quo, he needs to explain that indefensible position to Floridians. If the Republican has a better alternative to expanded background checks, he should offer it. But he should not block progress and prevent a full debate and a vote on gun control. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson plans to vote today to move forward with the legislation and calls the bipartisan compromise "about as common sense, as moderate position as you can take.'' Rubio should join him and avoid being an obstructionist.