Path to tougher gun controls may lead through states, not D.C.

 Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., greets President Donald Trump as he arrives on Air Force One at Harrisburg International Airport in Middletown, Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., greets President Donald Trump as he arrives on Air Force One at Harrisburg International Airport in Middletown, Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

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This round, Merri Walkenstein from our listening region asked: “What is Sen. Toomey currently doing about gun safety in Pennsylvania?” 

U.S. lawmakers are still working through a shooting incident last week in which a gunman opened fire at a congressional baseball practice outside of Washington, D.C.

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Congressman Steve Scalise, the House majority whip, was one of five people shot Wednesday as the Republican team practiced in Alexandria, Virginia. He has required surgery several times since the shooting.

The man who shot Scalise and others at the baseball practice had with him a piece of paper with doodles and the names of three lawmakers, according to a person familiar with the case.

Lawmakers from the region — including Pat Meehan from Philadelphia’s western suburbs — were shaken by the shooting. Meehan, a pitcher, wasn’t at the practice because he’d worked his arm the day before. Had he been there, though, he would have been right in front of the shooter, he said.

Explaining to reporters what congressional baseball means to him and others, Meehan broke down.

“The camaraderie that we have in the mornings, when we are there is such a change from the pressures we all feel on a regular basis, and sort of a return to the fun things,” he said. “You know, Scalise is the whip, but out on the field we treat each other like we’re back in high school again.”

After the shooting, a Kentucky Republican introduced a bill to allow people with concealed-carry permits in their home states to bring weapons with them into Washington.

On the other hand, some Democrats have used the shooting to call for stricter gun laws.

Standing by Toomey

The main gun-control bill in the Capitol — the Toomey-Manchin Bill — was co-sponsored by Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey and calls for background checks for more types of gun sales.

While briskly walking through the Capitol, Toomey said he doesn’t have a plan to introduce the bill in this session of Congress.

“I don’t have a date in mind, but I’d be open to that. I still support the policy,” he said. “I know Sen. Manchin does as well, so we’ll see.”

The bill garnered support from more than 50 lawmakers in two votes,  but Republicans successfully filibustered it. Toomey said the math just doesn’t seem to add up for it.

“Look, it doesn’t appear that we have the votes, right? I mean we tried this twice, we went backwards on the second one,” he said. “And I’m not aware of anybody that … would change their votes. So, I want to make progress.”

In his re-election campaign last year. Toomey won an endorsement from Americans for Responsible Solutions, the gun violence-prevention organization started by former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords who nearly dies in a 2011 assassination attempt . The group’s executive director, Peter Ambler, said there is no regret over that endorsement — even though Toomey isn’t pushing his gun-control bill this session.

In fact, Ambler said the organization would like to see “more Toomeys” in Congress.

“He ran on a platform that emphasized gun-violence prevention. It was something that you could have never imagined a Republican doing five years before he did,” Ambler said. “That’s why we endorsed him, and that’s why we stand by our endorsement today.”

Ambler said Toomey was a part of a broader nationwide movement that made a difference in state-level campaigns to change the nation’s gun laws.

“But we’ve indisputably moved the debate forward. His example helped us get universal background checks laws passed in nine states across the country,” Ambler said. “He and other leaders on both sides of the aisle helped us pass over 150 other pieces of legislation in 40 states over the last four years and change.”

Hoping to enlist the president

The bill’s other main sponsor, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, said he thinks the bill could pass in this Congress if President Trump were brought on board. That support would give cover to more moderate senators, Manchin said.

“Because they were scared, everybody that was fighting and opposing and pushing back on all their members said, ‘Yeah, but Barack Obama wants to take all our guns, so if you give him this little bit, he’ll take more.’

“They don’t believe that Donald Trump would do that,” Manchin said. “I’m sure not going to do it. But you need someone at that high level, to be able to know they’re going to protect the rights.”

As for the mood around gun control in general in this Congress? It seems to be more about gun rights than gun control.

For instance, U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello, R-Pennsylvania, said he doesn’t hear anything about stricter laws.

“I have not … If anything, I’ve heard more sort of headed in the other direction from some,” he said.

The NRA is pushing an effort to get a national concealed-carry bill passed — while also trying to make it easier for people to get silencers for their weapons. And that leave proponents of stricter laws focusing more on state capitals.

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