By Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
As most of my colleagues here in the Senate know, I am a proud gun owner and an A-rated lifetime card-carrying member of the National Rifle Association. I agree wholeheartedly with the mission of the NRA, which is to defend the Second Amendment rights of all law-abiding Americans, to promote firearms and hunting safety and marksmanship and to educate the general public about firearms.
And ever since I became a member, I have read all the magazines and all the bulletins they have sent me -- and I never had any reason to question their credibility. So I was surprised when the latest alerts from the NRA was filled with misinformation about the firearms background check legislation that Sen. Toomey and I are trying to get the Senate to pass.
The NRA is telling its members that our legislation would, and I quote: "criminalize the private transfer of firearms by honest citizens, requiring lifelong friends, neighbors and some family members to get federal government permission to exercise a fundamental right or face prosecution."
Not a word of that is true. Now, I remember when the NRA used to feel a lot different about background checks, and it wasn't that long ago. Back in 1999, their executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, testified before Congress that background checks were reasonable.
In fact, he said it over and over and over again, and I quote: "We think it's reasonable to provide for instant checks at gun shows, just like at gun stores and pawn shops. We think it's reasonable to provide mandatory instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show. No loopholes anywhere for anyone. That means closing the Hinckley loophole so the records of those adjudicated mental ill are in the system."
How is it "criminalizing" now to do checks on gun buyers, and it wasn't back then in 1999? What has changed? Absolutely nothing.
So I would hope that whoever at the NRA put out the untrue information about our legislation would correct it as quickly as possible. I don't want my friends to lose their credibility, because in this town, once you lose your credibility, you've got nothing.
It is simply not true that our legislation criminalizes private transfers of guns among family, friends and neighbors.
I understand that some of our colleagues believe that supporting our legislation is risky politics. But I think they're dead wrong because about 90 percent of Americans support the idea of criminal and mental illness background checks for gun sales.
I didn't get into public service as a career -- I did it to fix things. And right now few things need fixing more than our gun laws as they relate to background checks for gun show and Internet sales.
Our gun laws are so outdated and so out of whack that even al-Qaida has figured out how to exploit them to arm themselves against us. I'm sure all of you have seen the video of this guy -- al-Qaida terrorist Adam Gadahn -- telling sympathizers how to get their hands on guns in America, with almost no questions asked.
He says, and I quote: "America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle, without a background check and, most likely, without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?"
Our legislation will shut this guy up. If al-Qaida's enthusiasm for gun show sales isn't chilling enough, you should read today's New York Times article about how easy it is for criminals to buy and sell guns on the Internet.
Not only is it quick and easy, it's anonymous -- you don't have any idea who you are dealing with. One of the people in the article describes these Internet sales as a "gun show that never ends."
The Internet is a vast marketplace for guns. In 2000, the Department of Justice estimated that 80 online firearm auction sites and approximately 4,000 other sites offered guns for sale. That was more than a dozen years ago, and we all know how the Internet has expanded since then. The online market may now exceed gun shows in terms of sales volume.
Believe me, I understand the political stakes for my colleagues who come from states with strong gun cultures. I come from West Virginia, and no state has a higher regard for the Second Amendment right to bear arms than my state.
But West Virginians also are guided by common sense. And they are persuaded by the unvarnished facts. And when they read our legislation, they understand that all we are doing is using common sense to protect the safety of the public, especially our kids, and, at the same time, protect the Second Amendment rights to bear arms.
John Adams once said that "facts are stubborn things." And I'm pretty stubborn myself. So I'm going to go through our legislation again and tell you what is the myth out there and what is fact about our legislation.
Let's start with the myth that the NRA is repeating to their members.
MYTH: This legislation will require background checks when a gun owner sells, loans or gives a firearm to a relative, neighbor or friend.
FACT: Current law exempts such transfers from background checks, and our bill does nothing to change that. You can loan your hunting rifle to your buddy without any new restrictions or requirements. Or you can give or sell a gun to your brother, your neighbor, your coworker without a background check.
You can post a gun for sale on the cork bulletin board at your church or your job without a background check. We are not going to do anything to turn law-abiding gun owners into criminals.
MYTH: Nothing in this legislation would have prevented or will prevent any tragic mass shootings in the future.
FACT: We have no way of knowing what future tragedies will be prevented by our bill, and that is the point. But it's just common sense that keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and the dangerously mentally ill will save lives.