In a breakthrough on gun legislation, two U.S. senators -- a Democrat and a Republican -- announced Wednesday they had worked out a compromise on expanding background checks on firearms buyers to include gun shows and Internet sales.
The deal reached by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, and Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania, sets up the likelihood of a major Senate debate on gun legislation starting as soon as Thursday, when the chamber is expected to overcome a GOP filibuster attempt to block the proposals.
President Barack Obama and leading Democrats have pushed for tighter gun laws in the aftermath of the December school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 20 first-graders and six educators.
In an emotional scene later on Wednesday, Manchin choked up while meeting with relatives of Newtown victims who praised him for his political courage in taking on the powerful gun lobby.
"You give me more legislative strength than you know," Manchin said at one point.
He then was unable to speak when asked by a reporter how the Newtown families affected his role in the negotiations with Toomey and others.
Despite the agreement reached by Manchin and Toomey, both rated as strong supporters of gun rights by the influential National Rifle Association, the prospects for significant gun legislation to win congressional approval remained uncertain.
The NRA responded to the Manchin-Toomey agreement by saying it would fail to address the core issues of gun violence.
"Expanding background checks at gun shows will not prevent the next shooting, will not solve violent crime and will not keep our kids safe in schools," it said in a statement.
Following the Newtown shootings by a lone gunman, Obama called for a series of proposals including "universal" background checks on all gun purchases. Currently, the federal law requiring background checks covers licensed firearms dealers, with private sales excluded.
Fierce opposition by the NRA and its allies in Congress -- mostly conservative Republicans but also some Democrats from gun-friendly states -- made clear that the universal checks sought by Obama had no chance of passing, leading to efforts by Manchin, Toomey and others to work out a compromise.
"The bottom line for me is this: If expanding background checks to include gun shows and Internet sales can reduce the likelihood of criminals and mentally ill people from getting guns and we can do it in a fashion that does not infringe on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens, then we should do it, and in this amendment I think we do," Toomey told reporters on Wednesday.
Asked later about criticism by the NRA and others, he told CNN that the proposed legislation was "not a cure-all, but I think it would be some progress."
Manchin noted that the proposal meant that firearms buyers at gun shows would face the same background check currently required in sales by federally licensed gun dealers. In addition, it would close a loophole that exempts intrastate gun sales on the Internet from requiring a background check, he said.
Addressing concerns of the NRA that expanding background checks would burden law-abiding gun owners seeking to trade or gift weapons in a personal transfer, Manchin declared that "personal transfers are not touched whatsoever."
Another provision would recognize the legitimacy of concealed weapons permits across state lines.
The Manchin-Toomey compromise also would require states and the federal government to provide records on criminals and the "violently mentally ill" to the national background check system, addressing a criticism by the NRA and other opponents of gun laws that the existing system lacks substantive information.
In addition, the plan calls for a new National Commission on Mass Violence to report in six months on "all aspects of the problem, including guns, school safety, mental health, and violent media or video games."
The NRA said rejection of the universal checks sought by Obama was "a positive development," and it called for "serious and meaningful solutions" to gun violence instead of "blaming law-abiding gun owners for the acts of psychopathic murderers."
Obama said there are aspects of the proposal that he would like to see strengthened.
"But the agreement does represent welcome and significant bipartisan progress. It recognizes that there are good people on both sides of this issue, and we don't have to agree on everything to know that we've got to do something to stem the tide of gun violence," he said.
"Congress needs to finish the job," Obama added, saying he would continue "asking the American people to stand up and raise their voices because these measures deserve a vote."
Other reaction ranged from cautious support to angry rejection.
The Brady Campaign, named after the former White House press secretary wounded in an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, called the compromise a "good step forward," while New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo described it as "better than nothing" but a sellout to the gun lobby.
"This is a Congress that is captive of the extremists and there is no clearer proof of that than this," Cuomo said on the "Capitol Pressroom" radio show, adding that the compromise meant "we are not talking about a significant package of gun control anymore."