In the wake of the Florida school shooting that killed 17 people, Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey was among a number of lawmakers who met with President Trump Wednesday to discuss new gun control measures.
The second-term Republican’s main proposal is a measure to expand background checks for firearm purchases to include sales online and at gun shows.
The bipartisan bill is co-sponsored by West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin; a version was first introduced after 2012’s Sandy Hook shooting and narrowly defeated.
In a conference call ahead of the meeting, Toomey told reporters a number of previously opposed senators say they’d now support it.
“What’s changed is the horrific accumulation of these massacres. I think that’s making a difference,” he said. “The outcry from high school kids across the country, that’s contributed to this discussion as well. Those are having an effect.”
He said he’s willing to make tweaks to the bill to get it more votes.
Toomey is also supporting a measure banning gun sales to anyone on the no-fly list and another that would let the state crack down on people who lie about their criminal history on gun-purchase background checks.
“My guiding principle in this is, I do not want to infringe on the Second Amendment rights of a law-abiding citizen,” he said. “But I do want to take all reasonable steps to make it more difficult for those who shouldn’t have guns in the first place, to obtain them.”
In the meeting, however, Trump bucked the GOP line and appeared to come to a position on gun control that is well outside Toomey’s — and most Republicans’ — comfort zone.
“I like taking the guns early,” he said at one point, referring to dealing with mentally ill people who may commit mass shootings. “Take the guns first, go through due process second.”
In the televised negotiating session, Trump told a bipartisan group of lawmakers he plans to unilaterally ban bump stocks, which can effectively make a semi-automatic firearm function as an automatic one.
He also shot down concealed-carry reciprocity — an NRA-backed initiative that would make concealed-carry permits applicable across state lines.
Trump said he still supports measures such as arming teachers, and he was onboard with Toomey and Manchin’s expanded background check bill.
But he also appeared to support raising the minimum age to buy firearms from 18 to 21, and he asked Toomey whether he would add that measure to his bill.
Toomey said no.
And to that, Trump responded, “You know why? Because you’re afraid of the NRA … it’s a big issue right now, and a lot of people are talking about it, but a lot of people are afraid of that issue.”
Responding later to the president’s accusation, Toomey spokesman Steve Kelley said the senator never wavered in his commitment to the legislation he sponsored with Manchin “despite the aggressive opposition of the NRA.”
“The NRA downgraded Sen. Toomey’s rating and refused to back him for re-election,” Kelly continued. Toomey “has not received a dime from the NRA since joining the Senate … and has demonstrated that he is not afraid of the NRA or any other special interest group.”
Asked on his earlier conference call why he didn’t support raising the minimum buying age, Toomey said he believes doing so would infringe on Second Amendment rights.
“The way I look at it, is it good policy to deny law-abiding 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds the option to buy a long gun? I remain skeptical. I’m not convinced the benefits outweigh the costs,” he said.
The minimum age to buy handguns is already 21.
Toomey defended the discrepancy, saying handguns are more commonly used in crimes. But he also noted, “I think reasonable people can disagree about this. I don’t think the correct age is handed down by Moses.”
No matter what gun laws are ultimately passed, Toomey said he doesn’t think there will be a quick solution.
“We should all be very clear and honest about this,” he said. “No one of these bills, or all of them together, would be a panacea for mass shootings or gun violence in general.”