A national gun rights group has split from the National Rifle Association and said they will support bipartisan legislation to expand background checks on gun sales.
The Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, which calls itself the second largest gun-rights group in the US, said Sunday that it now supports the Manchin-Toomey agreement.
"We decided to back it because we believe it is the right thing to do," said Julianne Versnel, director of operations for the 650,000 member organization.
The agreement negotiated by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa. would expand background checks on gun sales at gun shows and online.
The National Rifle Association is strongly opposed to any expansion of background checks but the chair of the Citizens Committee, Alan Gottleib, said in a statement that the bipartisan legislation is in line with the organization's own goals.
"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," said Gottlieb.
The Manchin-Toomey bill received another important backer this weekend when Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told NBC News that she intends to vote yes.
Collins said she has now reviewed the actual text of the Manchin-Toomey bill and thinks it is a "reasonable" approach.
"I do intend to support it," Collins told NBC.
Another Republican, Sen. Mark Kirk from Illinois, worked with Manchin and Toomey privately during negotiations and is expected to vote yes on the background checks bill but has not said so publicly.