U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) believes lawmakers are the closest to reaching a bipartisan agreement on gun control laws since he has been in the Senate.
“My colleagues and I met yesterday to discuss a path forward for bipartisan legislation that can help prevent other tragedies in America without infringing on law-abiding citizens’ Second Amendment rights,” Toomey tweeted this week. “I’m optimistic about the direction we’re going & look forward to continuing to work together to create the best possible product.”
The retiring senator, who has long been one of the few Republicans open to tightening the country’s gun laws, said he sees support for legislation expanding background checks and encouraging states to adopt red-flag laws to keep firearms out of the hands of “violent criminals” and the “dangerously mentally ill.”
In a series of media appearances this week, Toomey said there is work being done behind the scenes by a group of bipartisan senators who are optimistic common ground can be found on gun control legislation in the wake of mass shootings in Tulsa, Okla., Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, N.Y..
The group, which has met at least four times, includes Sens. Richard Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), according to The Hill.
Toomey stressed an agreement must strike at a “tough narrow path” that also respects Americans’ Second Amendment right to own guns.
He described the group’s proposals as a “moving target” that includes additional funding for mental health and school safety as well as incentivizing states to adopt red-flag laws that would enable courts to temporarily seize weapons from owners deemed risks to themselves and others, The Hill reported.
“We’re closer than we’ve been since I’ve been in the Senate going back 12 years,” Toomey said during a Fox News interview.
“This is a big challenge. Sometimes we lump all of these killings into one category when, in fact, they’re very, very different in their nature. Some of these are gangs fighting each other over turf in their respective drug businesses. In other cases, of course, it’s these horrific sensational-sized cases of a deranged young man who goes in and mows down innocent civilians.”
The House on Wednesday passed a wide-ranging bill package called the “Protecting Our Kids Act” in a 223-204 vote.
It came hours after a tense hearing where victims of the massacres urged lawmakers to take action. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Bucks) was one of just five Republicans who voted for the proposals.
“While the House-passed measures tonight are far from perfect, they are a necessary step to incentivize the Senate to finally advance a bipartisan proposal that will address the legislative component of school and community safety, once and for all,” said Fitzpatrick. “Let me be clear: I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and all of the protections that it entails. I also believe that we have no higher responsibility as leaders, no higher responsibility as human beings, than to protect our children and to keep our community safe. These are not and must not be mutually exclusive concepts.”
The bills would raise the minimum age for purchasing semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21, ban high capacity magazines, require a registry for bump stocks, and tighten federal firearms regulations to apply to so-called “ghost guns,” which are manufactured without serial numbers by private citizens.
It would also create tax incentives for sales of safe storage devices and add criminal penalties for those who violate gun storage regulations at their residences.
The gun control package faces long odds in the evenly divided Senate, as 60 votes are needed to overcome a filibuster from Republicans who view sweeping gun-control measures with skepticism.
Toomey has been at the forefront of changing the nation’s gun laws for more than a decade. He co-sponsored legislation in 2013 with Manchin calling for the expansion of background checks on all commercial gun sales. That bill ultimately failed.
Toomey acknowledged any agreement on background checks in the current talks would likely look “different” than the previous iteration of his bill.
“A background check makes sense,” he said. “They can be done pretty quickly.”
Pressed about his support for tightening gun laws by Fox News, Toomey acknowledged that any legislation isn’t a “panacea” but said lawmakers cannot continue sitting on their hands.
“There is no one thing that will prevent mass killings. All we can hope for, in my view, is – on the margins – make it more difficult for someone who is dangerously mentally ill or someone who is a violent criminal to buy a firearm,” he said. “A determined criminal is going to be able to eventually get a gun. I understand that, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do to make it harder for that person to get a gun.”