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Becky Bowers
By Becky Bowers July 1, 2013

Sen. Joe Manchin says 1999’s NRA supported expanded background checks

Washington may have moved on to immigration and the scandal du jour, but the gun law debate still simmers in states like Sen. Joe Manchin’s West Virginia.

Dueling ads from the NRA and Manchin target West Virginia voters: "Tell Senator Manchin to honor his commitment to the Second Amendment!" and "Call the NRA and tell them to support criminal background checks!"

Manchin’s not giving up his quest to broaden gun buyer background checks, the Associated Press reported June 26, 2013.

The Democratic senator told Chris Matthews on MSNBC that he’s still making his case to the people in West Virginia to resurrect the bill that died in April.

"When they start seeing what we have done to the bill, you know what they said? And you mean the NRA in Washington is against this? We have been fighting for some of these provisions for the last decade or more.

"And I said, all we have done — and I said, guess what? In 1999, the NRA leadership in Washington, pretty much the same people intact, were for this. I haven't changed. They changed, Chris."

Was the NRA leadership for the provisions of Manchin’s gun proposal back in ‘99?

‘Instant criminal background checks’

We’ve checked related claims from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and President Barack Obama that Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA, once supported wider background checks.

It’s true he told a House subcommittee in May 1999 that "it’s reasonable to provide mandatory instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show. No loopholes for anyone."

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But the House rejected an expansion of background checks in June 1999 — a rejection the NRA supported. A Washington Post headline at the time said, "NRA Achieves Its Goal: Nothing."

LaPierre’s testimony before the House subcommittee hadn’t been in support of background checks legislation — it was against an amendment from Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J..

In his testimony, he outlined a set of proposals the NRA at the time found "reasonable," such as "instant criminal background checks."

But the crux of his testimony was that he found provisions of the legislation unreasonable, such as the way the legislation defined a gun show, how the law handled inheritance of weapons, and that the instant check system didn’t destroy records of transactions immediately.

The NRA ultimately backed legislation in the House that did expand background checks to sales at gun shows — but cut the time allowed for background checks to 24 hours, a change that ultimately killed the legislation.

Manchin’s recent legislation, which he offered with Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, addressed a number of the NRA’s concerns with Lautenberg’s 1999 provisions. (We summarized Manchin-Toomey back in April.)  It didn’t apply background checks to transfers between close relatives. Its definition of a gun show increased the number of guns from 50 to 75 and excluded residences of private collectors. It ultimately would have cut the time allowed for background checks down to 24 hours. But the NRA still challenged applying background checks to transfers between distant relatives and "lifelong friends," for example, echoing its opposition to 1999 proposals.

Our ruling

Manchin explained his continued pursuit of expanding background checks, saying that in 1999, even "the NRA leadership in Washington, pretty much the same people intact, were for this."

He’s correct that LaPierre, at the center of the most recent gun legislation battle, testified before lawmakers that the NRA supported "mandatory instant criminal background checks for every sale."

But then, as now, the group was opposed to specific legislative measures behind implementation of expanded checks. Even Manchin’s compromise measure may not have passed muster with 1999’s NRA. He’s right that the leadership expressed support for expanding background checks generally, but the details get more complicated, especially in the context of specific legislation. We rate his claim Mostly True.

Our Sources

CQ Newsmaker Transcripts, "Sen. Manchin Interviewed on MSNBC," June 20, 2013, subscription only

Sen. Joe Manchin, "Courage," June 20, 2013, via YouTube

NRA-ILA, "Tell Senator Manchin to Stand with West Virginia," June 10, 2013

Associated Press, "Manchin sticks with gun buyer check proposal," June 26, 2013, via the Charleston Gazette

PolitiFact, "Barack Obama says, 'The NRA used to support expanded background checks,'" April 18, 2013 (True)

PolitiFact, "Michael Bloomberg: NRA used to support more background checks," March 26, 2013 (True)

PolitiFact, "A summary of the Manchin-Toomey gun proposal," April 30, 2013

PolitiFact, "Obama says bipartisan background check plan ‘outlawed any (gun) registry,’" April 18, 2013

Washington Post's Fact Checker, "History lesson: the NRA’s ‘support’ for expanded background checks," April 19, 2013, "Biden Revises NRA History on Background Checks," April 12, 2013

Huffington Post, "NRA Supported Universal Background Checks After Columbine Massacre," Jan. 31, 2013

Washington Post, "The NRA Lobby Strikes Back," June 7, 1999

Washington Post, "NRA Achieves Its Goal: Nothing; Intense Lobbying Effort Aimed `to Be Ready for Anything,'" June 19, 1999

House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime, Testimony of Wayne R. LaPierre, May 27, 1999

New York magazine, "NRA Used to Support Background Checks, Now Favors More Illogical, Unpopular Position," Jan. 31, 2013

Atlantic, "The NRA of 2013 Is Trying to Stop the NRA of 1999 from Destroying the Second Amendment," Jan. 31, 2013

NRA website, "Statement from Chris W. Cox, NRA-ILA Executive Director, regarding inaccurate NBC story alleging that NRA won’t oppose background check bill," March 12, 2013

CNN Politicalticker, "NRA position on background checks has changed, board member affirms," Jan. 31, 2013

USA Today, "NRA head says background checks will fix nothing," March 15, 2013

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Sen. Joe Manchin says 1999’s NRA supported expanded background checks

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