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Toomey Introduces Narrow Background Check Legislation

J. Scott Applewhite

U.S. Senator Pat Toomey wants state and local law enforcement to know when someone buying a gun doesn’t pass a criminal background check.
“When someone is breaking the law by attempting to buy a firearm after their own previous criminal conviction disqualifies them from doing so, that very seldom gets prosecuted,” said Toomey, a Pennslyvania Republican. “So our legislation would simply require the FBI to provide that information.”

The legislation, which has bipartisan backing from Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL)  wouldn’t require officials to prosecute would-be buyers.

“This [bill] really should pass the Senate unanimously,” Toomey said.

He's less optimistic about the fate of more sweeping gun legislation being considered in the Senate. Earlier this year, the U.S. House passed sweeping legislation that would require universal background checks -- covering not just all commercial sales but also private sales between indivdiuals. Toomey said that measure won’t pass.

“The problem we have, frankly – it's on my side of the aisle,” Toomey said. He said he's still working to convince his Republican colleagues to support a more moderate proposal for background checks on commercial sales. “I have not yet been able to persuade enough of my Republican colleagues to broaden background checks to include all commercial sales, much less universal.”

In 2013, Toomey and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) proposed expanding background checks for all commercial gun sales while explicitly prohibiting a national gun registry (a very unpopular concept among gun-rights supporters). That proposal was defeated in the Senate. Toomey said he has no set timeline for reintroducing similar legislation.

“I’m not religious about exactly where you draw the line about exemptions from the background check," he said. "I’m looking to find a way that we can get a consensus and get legislation passed."

A revamp of the Violence Against Women Act, that would bar people with a history of domestic abuse from purchasing firearms, passed in the House last week, and is now in the Senate. Toomey said he hadn’t yet looked at the bill yet and couldn’t comment on whether he would support it.