Toomey Does Gun Bill Call with PA-GOP
Around noon, I got off a half-hour conference call with Senator Pat Toomey about his amendment to the Schumer gun control bill. (I'm a Pennsylvania Republican State Committee person, and that's who was on the call.)
I'll summarize what Toomey said, and the questions he answered. (I took notes, but I don't type fast enough to get everything verbatim. Where I use quotation marks, I believe I captured it accurately.) At the end, I'll weigh in with my latest thinking on this measure.
Sen. Toomey started by reminding us of his long commitment to the 2nd Amendment, personal gun ownership and his 'A' rating from the NRA.
About the Toomey-Manchin amendment, he said, "the way the story broke gave an opportunity for a great deal of inaccurate and completely wrong information to get out."
Toomey said he got involved with this measure because "there are some people very hostile to the 2nd amendment trying to advance an agenda." He believes the legislation reinforces the rights of law-abiding citizens, and "a reasonable measure to make it more difficult for criminals and mentally-insane individuals who are dangerous is sensible." Later he called it, "just a common sense way to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them in the first place."
"It is my strongly-held view," Toomey said, "that expanding the background checks does not undermine or infringe anyone's 2nd Amendment rights," noting that he supported background checks as a Congressman in 1999.
He outlined the Toomey-Manchin amendment, which includes incentives for states to provide information they already have to the NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) because it currently has inconsistent and incomplete data. He said that the 2007 Virginia Tech shooter had a history that would have prevented him purchasing handguns, but that data was not in the national database. He acknowledged that the shooter might have found another way to get a gun if he had been denied at the gun store counter, but that it would have prevented his purchase "on that day."
Toomey noted that his legislation would include gun shows and internet sales under the background-check requirement, including for long-guns. However, he pointed out that the measure, for the first time, provides for a penalty (fine and up to 15 years) for any government employee who uses that data to create a gun registry.
The Pennsylvanian highlighted the parts of the bill which the NRA and others like: allowing interstate travel with guns without being "subject to harassment" by law enforcement, accelerated background checks for the tiny percentage of persons whose names don't process in minutes, ability to use a conceal-carry permit as your de facto background check, and some changes that make it easier for members of our military to buy guns, and to appeal a veteran's unexpected appearance on the 'no-buy' list (my term, not his).
Sen. Toomey then fielded the following questions from Republican state committee persons.
Question: "I agree with the position you've taken...what can we do locally to help?"
Toomey: Write letters to the editor, call talk radio.
Question: What would this do to stop criminals from getting guns?
Toomey: "There is no panacea...it does make it a little more difficult. Today a convicted burglar or rapist can walk into a gun show and buy a rifle without anyone asking if he's entitled to do so. By requiring that, it makes it a little harder...For people troubled by really serious and profound mental disorders, denying them the opportunity to buy a weapon could make it more difficult."
Question: New York has broadened the definition of 'mentally ill' to include minor conditions, how does this measure avoid the risk of that happening nationwide?
Toomey: "We don't create any new system or any new criteria." We leave it to the states "to decide who is incompetent to own a weapon." But we do require the states to develop a system for challenging the mentally-ill designation.
Question: Where does the NRA stand on your bill right now?
Toomey: I have had a number of conversations with the NRA. I have an 'A' rating. NRA really helped us to craft the language in the bill that expands 2nd amendment rights. But they're opposed to any background checks whatsoever, so they're not supporting it.
Question: What about gun transfers between relatives?
Toomey: Those are not subject to background checks under this.
Question: Where can I get a copy of the amendment? (The caller then said he had already found it online.)
Toomey invited folks to call his office with other questions.
At the end of the call, Joyce Haas, vice chair of the state committee, said PA-GOP would soon send out "talking points."
MY THOUGHTS: Pat Toomey has been an island of sanity and integrity in a political cesspool for years, so when I first heard about this bill, it surprised me. [Full disclosure: Pat Toomey was the first person to endorse me when I first ran for County Executive in 2009, and he spoke at a major donor event for my successful 2011 run for County Commissioner.]
The Manchin-Toomey story was leaked out in a clumsy manner, and early support from Senators Susan Collins and John McCain didn't do much to encourage those of us who are jealous for our natural right to self-defense as enshrined in the 2nd Amendment. After reading the bill, the summary, and listening to the conference call -- as well as reading a lot of reaction to it in the social media and obsolete media (MSM) -- I'm still somewhat confused. It does contain some things I like -- interstate transfer rights, using conceal-carry card as background check.
I'm not convinced that the background check expansion is any worse than what we have now, but neither do I think that it addresses the problem which the president and the Democrats in the Senate say they want to fix. While it somewhat benignly says, "If we're going to have an NICS it might as well be accurate," it also perpetuates the fiction that the background check is an effective preventative against gun crime.
Practically speaking, Toomey-Manchin might be a Trojan horse, sneaking some pro-gun riders into Schumer's pure gun-control bill. But what Democrat would be fooled by that? And how will any of this get past the Republican-controlled House?
Some of my local Republican friends have decided that Toomey is just another Arlen Specter, or that he's been snookered, or that he is doing this for purely electoral purposes, hoping to win 'moderates' in his next race.
All of that would contradict what I know of a highly-intelligent, common sense legislator with a career in which he has won elections (and lost elections) by standing strong for his beliefs.
Frankly, I still don't know what to think about this maneuver, but I do think that Pat Toomey believes he's doing the right thing.