In the wake of the Charleston church massacre, Sen. Pat Toomey wants to revisit a gun background check measure he and Sen. Joe Manchin pushed for after the attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School, but he said Wednesday that he's still not sure if there would be enough votes to get a law passed.
"Honestly, I don't want to build up any false expectations," the Pennsylvania Republican told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program. "But I think the fundamental idea is sound. And, you know, I intend to continue discussions with my colleagues to see if there might some support for some way forward."
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On Tuesday night, Toomey received the first "Champion Award"
from the Connecticut group Sandy Hook Promise, whose members are relatives of some of the 20 children and six teachers killed in Newtown in December 2012, for his push for background checks.
"The folks who have founded Sandy Hook Promise are just amazing to me," said Toomey Wednesday. "What they have done with amazing courage and determination is put together an organization that is nonpartisan, it doesn't have an ideology, trying to prevent the next massacre."
The way the group does that, said Toomey, is by making a push "to identify the early signs of the mental illness that in the case of previous massacres has eventually led to this downward spiral, where demons take over and these young men commit these unbelievable atrocities."
"They do have a focus on gun safety as well," he continued. "What really impresses me is the courage and the determination to do something constructive out of this terrible, terrible tragedy they went through."
Toomey said the legislation he and Manchin proposed, which was narrowly defeated in 2013, wasn't a "controversial idea." It would have expanded background checks at gun shows and through Internet sales to determine if a purchaser was a convicted criminal or someone who has been determined mentally unfit before selling that person a gun.
"The only thing that our legislation would have done is it would have said that if you purchase a gun through a commercial vendor, whether it's at a gun show or dealership or online, you have to go through a instantaneous background check," said Toomey.
"It takes about three minutes to determine if you have been adjudicated as mentally unfit because of a mental incapacity that makes you dangerous or a convicted criminal. And we all agree that people in those two categories shouldn't have guns."
But it became controversial to establish a procedure to broaden background checks, Toomey said. The legislation was opposed because there are people who "mischaracterize" it, he added, but he still thinks "it's the right thing to do."
Ironically, there are already some background checks, including in his home state, where "all handgun sales are subject to a background check, but not all long gun sales."
While accepting his award Tuesday, he said that despite some of the fallout he
got from his conservative base, he'd push for background checks "again in a heartbeat," reports The Washington Post.
But he does regret that the bill didn't pass in 2013 and that "it took me so long before I raised my voice on this very important issue."
Only Toomey and three other Republicans supported the bill, whose vote failed while Sandy Hook families looked on. The result was "shameful," President Barack Obama said at the time, and during his interview with podcaster Marc Maron, Obama called that day "the closest I came to feeling disgusted. I was pretty disgusted."
Manchin told The Post he has not talked directly with Toomey yet about reviving the bill, but promised he would work with him to attract Republicans to agree to a future measure if it comes up.
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