Expanding gun background checks “on the table” in Senate talks, Toomey says

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Washington — Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania who is among the group of senators negotiating a package of new gun laws, said Sunday that a proposal to expand background checks is “on the table” as discussions continue.

“This is a moving target, if you will, we’re still in discussions, and we are still trying to figure out exactly what mechanism is going to enable us to get the votes that we would need. So I can’t be precise about that … It hasn’t been finally resolved,” Toomey said in an interview with “Face the Nation.” “But something in the space of expanding background checks I think is very well — it certainly is on the table, and I hope it’ll be part of a final package.”

Toomey and Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, have put forth legislation for nearly a decade to expand background checks. But the proposal, which became known as the Manchin-Toomey amendment, was rejected by the Senate in 2013 despite garnering support from four Republicans.

Toomey noted his long history of working to pass legislation to strengthen background checks for commercial sales of firearms, such as sales at gun shows and online, but acknowledged his and Manchin’s plan may not be in the final legislation put forth by the bipartisan group of negotiators.

“I don’t know that we’ll get exactly what Senator Manchin and I developed some years ago, it’d probably be something different than that. And that’s fine. There are a number of mechanisms you could use to expand background checks,” he said. “But I just think it makes sense. We all agree that violent criminals and deranged, dangerously mentally ill people shouldn’t have firearms. So we need a mechanism to increase the likelihood that will identify such a person and prevent them from buying a gun legally.”

Toomey is one of six Republican senators working with a group of Democrats, led by Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, to reach consensus on a legislative proposal to change the nation’s gun laws following mass shootings at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, in mid-May and an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, 10 days later.

The massacres, among the 239 mass shootings that have occurred so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, prompted Congress to once again search for a legislative response to curb gun violence. 

President Biden has pressured lawmakers to pass a package that would reinstate the ban on assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines, or raise the minimum purchasing age for assault-style weapons from 18 to 21, strengthen background checks, implement safe-storage and red-flag laws, and remove the immunity that shields gun manufacturers from liability. He also has advocated for more mental health resources, one area that has the backing of Republicans.

While a CBS News poll published Sunday found that 81% of Americans favor background checks on all potential gun buyers and 62% back a nationwide ban on AR-15s, support for gun restrictions breaks down based on party lines, and it’s unlikely enough Senate Republicans would support these measures to advance them in the upper chamber. In the 50-50 Senate, 10 GOP senators are needed to overcome the 60-vote threshold for legislation to advance. 

Still, Toomey said he hopes more than 10 Republicans will back a package agreed to by the bipartisan group of negotiators.

“My hope is we’ll get at least half the Republican conference. You know, that should be the goal here,” he said. “We’re going to have to be realistic about what can do that. Senator Murphy alluded to the idea that it’s not going to be everything certainly the Democrats would like. We’ll see where it ends up.”

Noting concerns from some Republicans that gun control legislation could violate Americans’ constitutional rights, the Pennsylvania Republican said he believes there’s a “place to land that’s consistent with the Second Amendment.”

“I think encouraging states to have some kind of red flag laws could make sense as long as there’s adequate due process. I think there are school safety provisions, there are mental health issues that we could address,” Toomey said. “So there are things we could do that would be constructive, that are consistent with Republican values, and I’m hoping we’ll get there.”

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