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Bipartisan deal on background checks unveiled

As promised, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), both traditional allies of the National Rifle Association, unveiled a compromise bill this morning to close the gun-show loophole. The proposal doesn't go as far as many gun-reform advocates had hoped, but it's a step forward that improves the odds of the larger legislation.

It's worth noting that the compromise was actually endorsed by four senators, not two, but only Manchin and Toomey appeared before the cameras this morning. And why is that? It's a funny story, actually (thanks to my colleague Mike Yarvitz for the heads-up).

Four senators may have signed on to a gun background check deal Wednesday, but only two showed up for the news conference -- in part because Pennsylvania GOP Sen. Patrick J. Toomey's public support for the bill hinged on not having to stand next to Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York.

The background check bill, which would close the gun show loophole and expand checks to online sales, is officially co-sponsored by Schumer; Toomey; Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va.; and Mark S. Kirk, R-Ill.... Toomey, the former Club for Growth president, had told Manchin he would not speak at the news conference if he had to get on stage with Schumer, according to two sources familiar with the talks. Schumer obliged, and Kirk also agreed not to appear in order to provide cover to Schumer.

Behold, the world's greatest deliberative body.

The next question, of course, is whether the bipartisan bill checks enough boxes for the various stakeholders. It is, after all, to the right of the original Democratic proposal (it closes the gun-show loophole and applies background checks to online orders, but leaves private sales unregulated), but to the left of far-right demands.

For proponents of new gun-safety measures, it's apparently good enough -- the White House, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and Americans for Responsible Solutions all expressed satisfaction with the Machin/Toomey compromise.

As for the National Rifle Association, Machin told reporters he expected the group to remain "neutral" on the bipartisan proposal, but immediately thereafter, the NRA criticized the plan.

Regardless, the senators involved in these negotiations have been getting quite a bit of credit this afternoon, and they deserve it. Expanded background checks are easily the most popular element of plans to reduce gun violence, but far-right opposition threatened to scuttle the plan. Weeks of negotiations with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) to forge a bipartisan agreement went nowhere, and there was talk as recently as two weeks ago that Senate Democratic leaders might just give up and focus on gun-trafficking reform.

It would have been easy for members like Toomey and Manchin to walk away, but they worked constructively to find a solution, and proved wrong the pundits who predicted failure.

There's still a lot of work to do -- as I said this morning, this is the beginning, not the end, of an endurance race -- but kudos to the senators who stepped up to get gun reforms to this point.