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Is the National Rifle Association beginning to lose its clout? (+video)

A major gun rights group has announced its support for a compromise Senate measure that would expand background checks on gun buyers. The National Rifle Association continues to oppose such checks even though most NRA members support them.

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"I grew up in Northern Maine where responsible gun ownership is part of the heritage of virtually every family,” Senator Collins explained in a statement. “I strongly support our Second Amendment rights, and two recent Supreme Court decisions … make clear that those constitutional rights pertain to the individual.”

“The Manchin-Toomey compromise takes a much more common sense approach [than tougher proposals] by requiring background checks only for commercial transactions and exempts family gifts and transfers,” she wrote. Like other senators, Collins said she was very moved by her meeting last week with the parents of children killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn. (20 first-graders and six educators were killed Dec. 14, 2012).

On CNN Sunday, Sen. John McCain, (R) of Arizona – the state where former US Rep. Giffords was shot in the head in a January 2011 attack near Tucson in which six people were killed and 13 wounded – said he’s "very favorably disposed" to the compromise measure.

"I appreciate their work," Senator McCain said. "And the American people want to do what we can to prevent these tragedies.”

While the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms now backs the Manchin-Toomey compromise measure, the NRA continues to oppose it despite what appears to be support of the bill by most NRA members.

NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre says background checks are just the slippery slope toward a “universal registry of law-abiding people,” as he put it on Fox News recently. The Manchin-Toomey measure “will not prevent the next shooting, will not solve violent crime and will not keep our kids safe in schools,” the NRA asserts on its website.

It’s unclear whether that measure – indeed, any increase in gun controls – will make it through Congress.

“I think it’s an open question as to whether or not we have the votes,” Senator Toomey said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday. “I think it’s going to be close.”

“We came here to do something,” Senator Manchin said during a joint interview with Toomey on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “We’ve got a chance to make a difference in people’s lives. We have a chance to save lives and not infringe on law-abiding citizens of this country, gun owners like myself and Pat. We have that opportunity, and God help us if we don’t do it.”

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