WILKES-BARRE — U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey thinks taking guns from the hands of criminals and severely mentally ill people is not an infringement of Second Amendment rights.
With that, Toomey took a huge bipartisan approach to try to resolve the struggle to pass legislation that will help curtail tragedies such as the Newtown, Conn., school massacre and ease the fears of gun rights activists.
Toomey, R-Zionsville, and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia have agreed on an amendment on expanding background checks to more gun purchases that could build support for President Barack Obama’s drive to curb gun violence.
“Pennsylvania has a long, bipartisan tradition of supporting gun rights,” Toomey said Wednesday during a media teleconference. “I am a proud part of that tradition. I am a gun owner. I revere the rights enshrined in our Second Amendment. My record shows this.”
He said criminal background checks are just common sense. “If you pass a criminal background check, you can buy a gun,” he said.
“It’s the people who fail a criminal or mental health background check that we don’t want having guns. That can be done without infringing on law-abiding people’s gun rights. And we ought to do it.”
The U.S. Senate is expected to begin debating the legislation today and the Toomey-Manchin proposal is seen as key in achieving the necessary 60 votes to move it forward. He said the vote is “procedural,” and if 60 votes aren’t achieved, the matter is over.
“But I do think we will get at least 60 votes,” Toomey said. “But I haven’t counted noses.”
The National Rifle Association came out strong against the amendment and critics of the proposal claim it will violate the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
“Background checks are no guarantee, but they do help,” Toomey said. “This amendment strikes a very sensible balance and it will reduce the risk that criminals and mentally ill will have guns.”
“The atrocity in Newtown” certainly gave momentum that something needs to get done, he said.
If a father wants to give a gun to his son, Toomey said, a background check isn’t necessary.
He expects “a wide range of opinions” on the issue. “I don’t think trying to keep guns out of the hands of criminals is gun control,” Toomey said. “I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but I don’t consider this giving anything up.”
He opposes limits on assault weapons and high-capacity clips. “Those would be infringements on Second Amendment rights,” he said.
Immediately after learning of the Toomey-Manchin proposal, the NRA released a statement.
“Expanding background checks at gun shows will not prevent the next shooting, will not solve violent crime and will not keep our kids safe in schools,” the statement said.
“We have a broken mental health system that is not going to be fixed with more background checks at gun shows. The sad truth is that no background check would have prevented the tragedies in Newtown, Aurora or Tucson,” the NRA said.
The NRA said it would like to see “a serious and meaningful solution” that addresses crime in cities such as Chicago, addresses mental health deficiencies, while at the same time protecting the rights of those who are not a danger to anyone.
Pennsylvania’s other U.S. senator — Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, a pro-gun Democrat — previously said he would support bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and would vote for expanded background checks.
“I was grateful Republicans and Democrats came together to reach a bipartisan compromise on background checks,” Casey said. “I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, but I also believe we have an obligation to take common-sense steps to reduce gun violence.