The Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms (CCRKBA), which styles itself the second largest gun-rights group after the National Rifle Association, broke from the rest of the Second Amendment movement to endorse the Toomey-Manchin compromise with remarkably effusive praise:
If you read the Manchin-Toomey substitute amendment, you can see all the advances for our cause that it contains like interstate sales of handguns, veteran gun rights restoration, travel with firearms protection, civil and criminal immunity lawsuit protection, and most important of all, the guarantee that people, including federal officers, will go to federal prison for up to 15 years if they attempt to use any gun sales records to set up a gun registry.
This was duly reported as a Highly Significant Event by the media, which was delighted to pit the CCRKBA against the NRA. For example, from a CNN blog post last weekend:
The NRA and other groups opposed to the Manchin-Toomey measure are "unwilling to take the hits," [CCRKBA chairman Alan] Gottlieb told CNN.
Toomey wrote on Twitter Sunday, "Glad to have the support of Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms."
And Manchin called the group's endorsement "huge" in an appearance on Fox News.
"It is a win for us," he insisted.
While he has heard from members of his group who are upset at its endorsement, Gottleib said it "is expected."
"A lot of the people don't trust anyone," he continued.
As it turns out, those people were absolutely correct, and Gottlieb was played for a fool. As the clock ticked down on the Manchin-Toomey vote, key provisions the CCRKBA required to support the bill were deftly stripped out, and the organization's leaders were obliged to withdraw their support:
The Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms has withdrawn its support for the Manchin-Toomey alternative background check measure because a key amendment for restoration of firearms rights is not being considered.
Our support for this measure was contingent on several key provisions, the cornerstone of which was a rights restoration provision that is not on the schedule for consideration. This is not a reflection against Senators Joe Manchin or Pat Toomey, who are staunch Second Amendment advocates.
Why is this a surprise to anyone? This is how gun control works. This is how progressivism works. False promises are made, and broken at the appropriate time. Vast new powers are asserted, safe in the knowledge that the paper chains binding them can be snipped at will. Why is it necessary to teach a "gun rights group" that when the right to keep and bear arms is compromised, countless devils lurk in the details, and Democrat "negotiating partners" cannot be trusted to honor their commitments? Any restraint promised today will last no longer than the next exploitable crisis, at best... and when it arrives, today's compromises will be cited as precedent for the next atrophy of rights.
But even before this last-minute bait-and-switch, the CCRKBA's energetic support for Manchin-Toomey was utterly naive. David Kopel at the Volokh Conspiracy performed a majestic dissection of those "advances" for the Second Amendment cause on Monday. It's well worth reading in full at the link above, but let's just focus on the first point Kopel makes, because it's blindingly obvious: "The provision which claims to outlaw national gun registration in fact authorizes a national gun registry."
The relevant text of the bill reads as follows:
(c) Prohibition of National Gun Registry.-Section 923 of title 18, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following:
“(m) The Attorney General may not consolidate or centralize the records of the
“(1) acquisition or disposition of firearms, or any portion thereof, maintained by
“(A) a person with a valid, current license under this chapter;
“(B) an unlicensed transferor under section 922(t); or
“(2) possession or ownership of a firearm, maintained by any medical or health insurance entity.”
Can you spot the gaping hole in this supposedly ironclad "guarantee" of protection against a national gun registry? Did I give too much of the game away with that boldface emphasis?
Why in the world did Senator Toomey agree to limit this prohibition to the Attorney General, when it is so easy to envision someone like the Secretary of Health and Human Services - thanks to ObamaCare, among the most powerful officials on the planet - creating it for "public health" reasons? And, as Kopel notes, nothing in this language prevents harvesting registration data from holders of Federal Firearms Licenses once they retire.
Also, enforcing that vaunted 15-year prison sentence against would-be registry architects would essentially require the Justice Department to prosecute itself... something it does not excel at, as any student of Operation Fast and Furious can attest.
No matter the fate of Manchin-Toomey, or the final destination of the rickety Newtown Gun Control Express, this lesson can be remembered and applied to every expansion of the State. What government needs are openings, and they can be very small; it can squeeze vast amounts of its bulk through tiny cracks, with patient effort. Everything is always limited, controlled, and modest at first; each new power grab affects only a tiny handful of people. You can follow that trail of promises all the way back to the primordial days of the New Deal.
But once the initial concession is made, the next round of further concessions is demanded. The State demands everything plus the kitchen sink; "reasonable" people eager to "compromise" promptly rush forward with the kitchen sink in their hands, and congratulate themselves for driving a hard bargain. The answer must be a firm no, and it must not change the second, third, or fourth time the State and its worshipers repeat their demands. The only way to keep these "reasonable compromises" from quickly growing beyond the imagination of their supporters is to make them non-starters.
Update: Just as I posted this, the Manchin-Toomey compromise was officially pronounced dead. "I did what I thought was the right thing for our country," said Senator Toomey. "I sought out a compromise position that I thought could move the ball forward on an important matter of public safety. My only regret is that our amendment did not pass. It’s not the outcome I hoped for, but the Senate has spoken on the subject, and it’s time to move on. We have a lot of other very important issues to deal with such as getting the economy back on track, dealing with the debt ceiling and creating more jobs for Pennsylvanians."