With Senate Bill 649 likely to be the last chance Senate Majority Leader Harry will have to pass gun control legislation in this session, West Virginia Democrat John Manchin has been working hard to bring the National Rifle Association (NRA) into the discussion on how to make it palatable to those opposed to the background checks provision in that bill.
This is the bill which Senator Rand Paul tried to close down but the vote for cloture failed, 68-31, with a number of Senators with A ratings from the NRA voting against it and allowing the bill to proceed. On Thursday, Senators Rand Paul, Mike Lee and Ted Cruz released a statement just before the vote, saying:
The effort to push through legislation that no one had read highlights one of the primary reasons we announced our intention to force a 60 vote threshold.
16 Republican Senators voted along with enough Democrats to bring S. 649 to the floor for a vote, which is now scheduled for next week. Manchin had been working for weeks with the NRA to soften some of the language in that bill to make it more acceptable to his colleagues when it does come to the floor.
Ruby Cramer, writing for Buzzfeed.com, has been watching this scene and reported that Manchin was banking on the NRA to go along with changes, giving enough political cover for pro-gun Senators with A ratings from the NRA be able to vote for it without damage to their perceived support for gun rights. Cramer quoted Manchin’s communications manager, Jonathan Kott, as saying that Manchin “always talks to the NRA and has a great relationship with them, especially back in his state [of West Virginia]. Those lines of communication will always be open.”
After working with another allegedly pro-gun Senator, Republican Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania, Manchin announced a “bipartisan compromise” on Wednesday that could open the door for passage of the controversial measure. Said Manchin:
Today is the start of a healthy debate that must end with the Senate and House, hopefully, passing these commonsense measures and the president signing it into law.
The events of Newtown, truly the events at Newton, changed us all. It changed our country, our communities, our town and it changed our hearts and minds.
When he was asked about whether he was worried about his A rating with the NRA Manchin replied, “What matters to me is doing the right thing. And I think [this bill] is the right thing.” He added:
We’re here for a purpose to do things. This is the right thing to do. I would hope that just having a score or a rating they would look at it and say, “Did we do the right thing? Did we use common sense? Did we do the right thing to protect lives, protect our children?” I would hope we would get credit for that. I can’t help the scoring system.
Toomey, also sporting an A rating from the NRA, added:
I’ve got to tell you candidly, I don’t consider background checks to be gun control. I think it’s just common sense. If you pass a criminal background check, you get to buy a gun, no problem. It’s the people who fail a criminal or a mental health background check that we don’t want to have a gun.
Within hours of that announcement, however, the NRA released a letter of unequivocal opposition to S. 649, even with the compromise language that it, Toomey and Manchin, along with Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) had crafted:
S. 649, the “Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013”, introduced on March 21, contains a number of provisions that would unfairly infringe upon the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners. This legislation would criminalize the private transfer of firearms by honest citizens, requiring friends, neighbors and many family members to get government permission to exercise a fundamental right or face prosecution. The NRA is unequivocally opposed to S. 649…
This includes the misguided “compromise” proposal drafted by Senators Joe Manchin, Pat Toomey and Chuck Schumer. As we have noted previously, expanding background checks, at gun shows or elsewhere, will not reduce violent crime or keep our kids safe in their schools.
Given the importance of these issues, votes on all anti-gun amendments or proposals will be considered in NRA’s future candidate evaluations.
This isn’t the first time that politicians have tried to use their ratings from the NRA as cover for voting against the Second Amendment. Among those Senators who voted against cloture which is allowing this bill to move forward in the Senate are Susan Collins (R-Maine) with an NRA rating of C+, Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), with an A, Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) with an A, and John McCain (R-Ariz.) with a B+. In all, 13 Senators who voted against cloture held A ratings from the NRA.
Those looking for more reliable ratings on how their senators and representatives really vote on vital Second Amendment issues, the Gun Owners of America follows a stricter code and provides a more realistic assessment of pro-gun backbone. Its ratings for the four senators just mentioned are Collins: D-, Corker: C, Graham: B-, and McCain: C-.
Robert Laurie has been following S. 649 closely as well, along with the backroom negotiations between the NRA and pro-gun senators to move this anti-Second Amendment legislation forward. After seeing A-rated senators voting against Paul’s cloture, Laurie said: “So much for ‘shall not be infringed.’”
Those ratings from the NRA are not to be trusted. Neither are those sporting A ratings who use them as cover to vote against the Second Amendment.