Odds improving for Toomey bill to expand background checks, but no slam dunk

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Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with lawmakers about trade policy in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, in Washington. (Evan Vucci/AP Photo)

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with lawmakers about trade policy in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, in Washington. (Evan Vucci/AP Photo)

The Republican Party seems to be slowly shifting on gun-control measures, but every proposal still faces an uphill battle.

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey hasn’t even officially re-introduced his bill that would expand background checks to more gun purchases. He and Democratic co-sponsor, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, haven’t found enough senate votes to get it approved. But President Trump now seems to be behind it so it’s picking up steam. Still, while talking directly to Toomey, President Trump asked why his background check bill didn’t also raise the age limit for buying a rifle or shotgun.

“We didn’t address it, Mr. President. Look I think,” Toomey said.

“You know why? Because you’re afraid of the NRA right?” Trump interrupted.

“No no,” Toomey replied.

When Toomey got back to the Capitol after being called out by Trump, he tried to deflect the president’s criticism.

“So I didn’t take it that he was directing that at me as I mentioned earlier if there’s a Republican Senator that has stood up to the NRA, it’s me. Right? The bill that I introduced with Joe Manchin was opposed by the NRA,” Toomey said.

Toomey’s proposal seeks to close what he says are loopholes that allow people to purchase guns without a background check, but even with the president’s endorsement it faces opposition. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida was also in the meeting with Trump and still opposes Toomey’s bill.

“Because none of these mass shootings were conducted by someone who bought a gun at a gun show or a parking lot. In fact they were all, in many cases, either passed a background check or a straw purchase. I think we’re better going after people that are conducting a straw purchase and not being prosecuted,” Rubio said.

Rubio may not be on board, but Toomey has allies from our region. Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Bucks County is a former FBI agent. And he says he’s disgusted over reports that an officer stayed outside the Parkland school while 17 were killed.

“It was sickening. As a law enforcement officer you train for that moment. That’s the moment you train for — that’s when people rely on you. That’s the reason you’re on the job, is to act,” Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick is trying to win over his skeptical GOP colleagues on a slew of new gun-control measures, including one to keep guns out of the hands of people accused of domestic violence and another to do research on gun violence which is prohibited under federal law.

“Preserving the 2nd Amendment and promoting public safety are not mutually exclusive. We can advance both goals together,” Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick also wants to ban so-called bump stocks — the device the Las Vegas shooter used to be able to fire rounds as quickly as if he had a fully automatic weapon. U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello, a Republican who represents parts of four counties west of Philadelphia, also supports that effort and says his party should take it up now.

“That would be a good message to send that we’re not going to wait for the ATF because they said they don’t have jurisdiction. We’re not going to wait for the President. We’re going to do some of these things that most of the country feels should get done, and we’re not going to worry about when someone else might do it,” Costello said.

Costello says he wants the Center for Disease Control to research the impact violent video games, movies, and TV advertisements are having on children.

“Now, a kid just goes on the internet and sees stuff at the age of five or six that I wouldn’t have seen until I was 17 or 18-years-old. And, I don’t know what that does to a child’s brain and I think that that’s a kind of thing that, as Republicans say, well we need to talk about culture. Well, okay, we have technology putting bad culture in front of kids every single day. We should look at that,” Costello said.

South Jersey Republican U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur had lunch this week with Speaker Paul Ryan and asked him for a vote on a standalone background check bill. This year he supported a bill to allow people to carry guns across state lines, called the concealed carry reciprocity act. But now he’s backing off that proposal until a national background check bill can pass.

“My view now is that you have to create the right baseline for reciprocity or the American people, I don’t think, will be entirely comfortable with it. And so, let’s get the background check system fixed,” MacArthur said.

That’s a significant development, because New Jersey has very strict rules for who can carry a concealed weapon, even for people passing through who have a carry permit elsewhere.

Even if the fate of the Toomey-Manchin background check bill is fuzzy, the Parkland shootings have clearly, at least for the moment, put the brakes on bills that would loosen gun restrictions.

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