Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., unveiled a deal in a press conference on Wednesday morning to expand background checks to nearly every commercial gun purchase. President Barack Obama said there were parts of the agreement "that I might prefer to be stronger," but welcomed the move and pushed Congress to "finish the job" of writing legislation to tamp down gun-related violence.
Manchin called the agreement a "first step" to passing broader legislation.
"The events of Newtown changed us all," Manchin said, referring to the Dec. 14 shootings that killed 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school. "Nobody here … with a good conscience could sit by and not try to prevent a day like that from happening again."
Currently, only people who buy guns through federally licensed dealers have to undergo a criminal background check, leaving a loophole for some online and gun show shoppers. The new bill would expand checks to nearly every gun transaction except for some private sales and transfers among relatives, friends and neighbors. The background checks bar people who have committed felonies or have been declared mentally ill by a judge from purchasing firearms.
Toomey said he did not think expanding background checks to cover current loopholes amounts to "gun control." Instead, he said, "It's just common sense."
Both Toomey and Manchin are gun owners and have an A rating from the National Rifle Association, the largest pro-gun lobby group. Toomey said he added some provisions to strengthen gun rights in the bill, including allowing a legal gun owner to take his or her concealed weapon over state lines while traveling, even if that state does not allow concealed carry.
The full bill also provides more money for school safety and strengthens laws against illegal firearm sales. Proposals to ban certain semi-automatic weapons and limit magazine sizes—pushed by Obama and other Democrats—have been dropped from the main bill, but could be added later in an amendment process.
Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah have threatened to filibuster the legislation, which could face a test vote as early as Thursday.
Hours after the announcement, Obama issued a statement praising the Manchin-Toomey accord.
"I applaud Sens. Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey for their leadership on forging a bipartisan agreement around common-sense background checks that will make it harder for dangerous people to get their hands on a gun," the president said.
"This is not my bill, and there are aspects of the agreement that I might prefer to be stronger. But the agreement does represent welcome and significant bipartisan progress," Obama said.
"Of course, a lot of work remains. Congress needs to finish the job," he continued. "The Senate must overcome obstruction by defeating a threatened filibuster, and allow a vote on this and other common-sense reforms to protect our kids and our communities. Any bill still has to clear the House. So I’m going to keep asking the American people to stand up and raise their voices, because these measures deserve a vote—and so do the families and communities they’re designed to protect."
Olivier Knox contributed to this report