Before this week, it would have been inconceivable that a conservative Democrat whose signature campaign ad in the 2010 election featured him shooting environmental legislation with a hunting rifle could help salvage gun control. But that is exactly what West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin has done. The compromise he devised with Pennsylvania Republican Senator Pat Toomey to address background checks for gun buyers provided a needed impetus for the Senate to take up new gun laws next week.
The surviving gun legislation is, admittedly, far from what gun-control supporters sought in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shootings. Indeed, expectations that the slaying of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December would launch sweeping reforms, such as a revival of the assault weapons ban, are long gone. But the Manchin compromise is useful for several reasons. First, it would close the loophole that allowed vendors to sell weapons at gun shows without making background checks of the buyers. Second, it provides an opportunity for Congress to reject the pleadings of the National Rifle Association — the seemingly impregnable lobby that stands between common sense and any form of gun legislation.