The NRA hates Pat Toomey, but he still can’t get background checks passed

The senator broke with fellow Republicans to defy the gun lobby, but in multiple tries over the past decade, he’s failed to force action.

Sen. Pat Toomey

Sen. Pat Toomey

Flickr via Shirley Li/Medill

Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey is working with his Democratic colleagues to strengthen the background checks that folks will face if they want to buy firearms.


The Republican legislator has instigated this kind of gun reform before … twice. Both efforts went down in flames when his fellow right-of-center lawmakers left him hanging.

This time, Toomey’s teeing off an announcement from President Donald Trump, who said on Monday that he supports the preventative purchasing measure. Apparently, the two mulled the idea over on the phone earlier this week.

Will Toomey’s latest efforts prevail? Perhaps. Times have changed since his first 2013 push, and the country’s gun violence problem has only intensified.

But keep in mind, the Senate is still controlled by staunch Second Amendment Republicans. Proof: There’s a different background-check bill that’s actively stalling out in the GOP-controlled Senate as we speak.

Galvanized by Sandy Hook

Let’s back up a sec.

From the jump, you might have been surprised to hear that Toomey, generally considered Pennsylvania’s more conservative legislator and the subject of repeat Tuesdays with Toomey protests, supports gun reform. But indeed, the guy’s a repeat advocate.

Toomey has collected a C rating from the NRA. That’s decidedly low for a Republican who’s an avowed gun owner.

He first introduced gun control legislation after the 2012 mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. Toomey partnered with a Democratic colleague, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, to suggest mandating criminal background checks on all gun sales between private parties, with a few limited exceptions.

Current law mandates that federally licensed gun dealers conduct checks before selling firearms. But the same rule does not apply to private or online retailers, who are allowed to sell guns without running audits on the purchasers.

Consider this strike one for Sen. Pat. The 2013 Toomey-Manchin bill failed when 46 senators declined to support it, with 41 Republicans and five Democrats voting against.

Two years later, Dems reintroduced the same background-check legislation. As expected, Toomey jumped on board and bequeathed a vote in the affirmative.

Toomey was one of just four Republicans to support the bill — and it flopped again, 48-50. Strike two.

Third time’s the charm?

A flood of legislators have weighed in on the gun control debate in the wake of tragic mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. Toomey is among them.

Again alongside West Virginia Democrat Manchin, Toomey is planning to introduce a bill that would close some of those infamous background-check loopholes.

“We have universal agreement in this country that violent criminals and those who are determined to be dangerously mentally ill should not have firearms, for obvious reasons,” Toomey told Fox News on Tuesday. “Well, the background-check system is the mechanism for determining if someone is in either of those categories.”

The two-term senator has also paired up with a second Dem colleague, Chris Coons from Delaware. Together, they want to make sure state law enforcement agencies are notified immediately when the FBI figures out someone lied on an application for a firearm.

Now, you’re probably wondering: Will any of this stuff actually pass in the Senate?

“Well I hope it would,” Toomey said on Fox. “I think it’s just a common-sense measure.”

But despite the severity of the situation, which has brought hundreds of mass shootings this year alone, the U.S. Senate is still controlled by Republicans, many of whom are the very same people who struck down Tommey’s 2013 background-check bill.

Another background-check bill, very similar in essence to the Toomey-Manchin one, passed the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives just a few months ago — only to grind to a halt in the upper house.

So does Toomey’s latest effort have a chance at passing? Outlook hazy.

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