Just hours before a historic bipartisan gun control law passed in the U.S. Senate—with the support of 15 Republicans–Sen. Pat Toomey shared his thoughts with reporters in a conference call Thursday.
The bill, crafted quickly by a bipartisan committee of senators in the wake of mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., and at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, is a compromise, said Toomey (R-Pa.).
“For over a decade now, (Sen.) Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and I have been working with Republicans and Democrats to try to find ways to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and dangerously mentally ill people who are not supposed to have them,” Toomey explained. “I think this step that we’re taking this week when we pass this bipartisan Safer Communities Act will take us in a significant step in furthering that goal. It’s not exactly the same thing as Manchin-Toomey, that’s certainly true. But there’s a lot of common sense and there’s a sensible approach.
“First the area I have focused on is background checks and it will strengthen the background check system, especially for young adults,” said Toomey. “It will also provide federal assistance for state crisis intervention programs.
“And that will help to address mental health, drug, veteran’s courts, or extreme risk protection orders,” he said. “There are enhanced penalties for gun trafficking and straw purchases and it’ll provide codification of what constitutes sellers of firearms being engaged in the business of selling. And that invokes the obligation to be a federal firearms dealer and requires the seller to conduct background checks.
Toomey added, “I believe it will make our communities somewhat safer. And it will certainly protect the Second Amendment right of law-abiding Americans. It’s always important to me that Second Amendment rights not be infringed.”
“You have to calibrate expectations,” Toomey said. “And strive for what is doable, what can be accomplished. Sen. Manchin and I worked on expanding background checks for a long time.”
While the legislation does not require a background check on all gun sales, it will likely expand them because more gun sellers will be required to register as Federal Firearms License (FFL) dealers.
Also, criminal history and mental health adjudications for juveniles will now be part of background checks for those gun buyers under 21.
The bill cleared the Senate 65-33 and passed the House 234-193 Friday afternoon, with 14 Republicans voting with all Democrats to support it.
House GOP Whip Rep. Steve Scalise worked against the bill’s passage in the House.
Scalise (R-La.) called it “an effort to slowly chip away at law-abiding citizens’ Second Amendment rights, this legislation takes the wrong approach in attempting to curb violent crimes.” Scalise was a victim of gun violence when a Bernie Sanders supporter began shooting at a congressional Republican baseball practice in June 2017.
Delaware Valley Journal asked Toomey about Scalise’s critique.
“Congressman Scalise and I just disagree on this. I don’t see anything in this legislation that infringes on Second Amendment rights. Just as a background check itself does not infringe on Second Amendment rights. And very conservative, pro-Second Amendment Supreme Court justices have explained why a background check does not infringe on Second Amendment rights. So look, we just disagree. There’s going to be a significant bipartisan vote in favor of this legislation in the Senate and I am confident the House will follow suit,” Toomey said.
Toomey was also asked about opposition from the National Rifle Association.“I don’t know what the NRA is objecting to,” Toomey said. In 1999 the NRA “totally supported expanding background checks, then they decided they were no longer in favor of expanding background checks. I don’t know what their rationale is.”
Also, Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a New York case that gun owners do not have to provide a reason to carry a concealed weapon. Asked about whether that is a good decision, Toomey said he had not read the opinion and could not give a “detailed critique,” but went on to give a full-throated endorsement of the decision.
But “the Second Amendment is very clear. It gives you a constitutional right to bear arms. To bear means to carry. It meant that when it was written. It means that today. And if a state chooses to systematically deny people the right to carry arms, except under extraordinary circumstances, to me that state is clearly infringing,” Toomey said.
“It should not be the case that you have to prove to some bureaucrat that special circumstances require you to be able to exercise your constitutional rights,” he added. “We don’t impose that on other constitutional rights. I don’t have to prove I have a need to practice religion.”
Asked about whether he hopes Pennsylvania would take advantage of grants for “red flag” laws or laws that could allow people to report someone who might be a danger to themselves or others if they have a gun, Toomey said the state legislature should look at “what would benefit Pennsylvania the most.”
The bill includes $750 million for grants which can be used for many purposes such as expanding access to mental health care and addiction care, veterans’ courts.
President Joe Biden has promised to sign the bill when it reaches his desk.