Cheap shots undeserved

It would border on the absurd to suggest a West Virginia senator who owns firearms, hunts with them and once ran a campaign spot featuring him using a rifle to blow a hole in an anti-coal bill is “anti-gun.” Yet undoubtedly, Sen. Joe Manchin has drawn a large target for that criticism on his back by championing what is, in truth, a very modest attempt to keep firearms out of the wrong hands.

Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., are pushing once again for a bill they introduced in 2013. It went nowhere then, because of opponents who saw it as an attack on Second Amendment rights.

But the Manchin-Toomey proposal is no such thing. It merely expands – again, very minimally – the existing background check system for firearms transactions.

Here are the bill’s basics:

– Current law requires background checks through the federal NCIS system for most firearms sales, including those by licensed dealers at gun shows. The bill would expand that to include sales by non-dealers at shows.

– Background checks are required for online interstate sales of firearms. The bill would expand that to include online sales within states.

– Manchin-Toomey would encourage states to provide pertinent records, such as those involving criminal convictions, to the federal NCIS system.

– If enacted, the measure would establish a National Commission on Mass Violence to investigate the causes of murderous sprees such as that at an Oregon community college recently.

Important Second Amendment protections also are included in the senators’ proposal. For example, it would ban creation of a national firearms owner registry. It would require the background check system to be operated without delays; within four years, reports would have to be generated within 24 hours.

Manchin-Toomey would not prevent all – or perhaps even most – mass killings using firearms. But it could prevent some and, through the national commission, could forestall even more.

Law-abiding Americans are absolutely right to worry about misguided efforts to slash Second Amendment safeguards. This is not one of them, however. At the very least, it deserves to be debated in the Senate – not killed by a shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later attitude.