Expanded background checks for gun sales got a very unlikely vote of support on Sunday. In what appears to be a split in the usually unified front that the gun rights lobby attempts to present, the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms came out in support of the proposal by Senators Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) for expanded background checks on gun control sales, breaking with the National Rifle Association.
The Citizens Committee calls itself the second-largest gun rights organization in the United States behind the NRA. The organization claims to have a membership roster of 650,000 gun owners and supporters. The NRA reiterated its opposition to the legislation on Sunday, however the break in the usually-unified gun lobby front increases the chance for gun control legislation to pass Congress and be signed by President Barack Obama.
The Citizens Committee is closely affiliated with the Second Amendment Foundation, a legal think tank and law firm that focus on court challenges to prevent restrictions on gun rights. They are responsible for bring the suit of McDonald v. Chicago before the Supreme Court, which in a landmark 5-4 ruling held that the Second Amendment’s right to "keep and bear arms" is incorporated by the Due process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and applies to the states.
In an email to supporters explaining the decision, Alan Gottlieb, the chairman of the Citizens Committee, attempted to emphasize parts of the bill that gun rights advocates would view as a win for their side,
"If you read the Manchin-Toomey substitute amendment, you can see all the advances for our cause that it contains like interstate sales of handguns, veteran gun rights restoration, travel with firearms protection, civil and criminal immunity lawsuit protection, and most important of all, the guarantee that people, including federal officers, will go to federal prison for up to 15 years if they attempt to use any gun sales records to set up a gun registry."
The Manchin-Toomey amendment is expected to hit the floor of the Senate for debate on Tuesday. A vote on the legislation in the Senate on Tuesday may happen as well, although Senate Republicans have not agreed to that legislative schedule. A similar bill to Manchin-Toomey is going to be introduced in the House of Representatives on Monday by Congressman Peter King (R-N.Y.).
It is possible that the Citizens Committee is throwing itself behind Manchin-Toomey to prevent more drastic gun control legislation from reaching the desk of President Obama. Two other Democratic gun control proposals are expected to come up in the Senate for a vote: the reimplementation of a ban on "military-style" firearms and a ban on high capacity ammunition magazines. Both proposals are expected to fail, falling far short of the 60 votes needed to ensure passage.
Several amendments that could be seen as sweeteners to aide the passage of Manchin-Toomey are expected to be proposed during debate. These include a bipartisan plan to increase funding for mental health programs that assist military veterans and an NRA backed amendment that would provide "national reciprocity" when it comes to concealed carry firearms, allowing someone who has a permit in one state to conceal carry anywhere in the country.
As eyes move to the Senate floor on Thursday, the next chapter of the gun control debate will play itself out. The Citizens Committee is betting on passage of the bill. The National Rifle Association is betting against. Time will tell on who wins and loses.