WASHINGTON — Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey on Wednesday called for an expansion of required background checks for those who want to buy guns by arguing that the proposal does not actually constitute “gun control.”
“I don’t consider criminal background checks to be gun control,” Toomey said during a press conference at the Capitol. “I think it’s commonsense. If you pass a criminal background check, you get to buy a gun. No problem. It’s the people who fail a criminal or mental health background that we don’t want to have a gun.”
Toomey joined Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia on Wednesday in offering compromise legislation as Congress takes up gun bills. It requires background checks for all commercial transactions, including for those who buy firearms at gun shows and online.
Certain private sales would be exempt from the requirement, as would the transfer of guns between family members.
The National Rifle Association blasted the proposal.
“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 organization said in a statement.
The proposal comes as President Obama and Democrats have highlighted December’s massacre in Newtown, Conn., in their push for new gun control laws.
“It changed our country, our communities, our towns,” Manchin said Wednesday of the shooting. “And it changed our hearts and minds.”
According to a fact sheet distributed to reporters, Toomey and Manchin’s “Public Safety and Second Amendment Rights Protection Act” would require states and the federal government to send records on criminals and the violently mentally ill to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
Toomey said the legislation is the work of Republicans and Democrats looking to find common ground.
“The common ground rests on a simple proposition,’ he said. “And that is criminals and the dangerously mentally ill shouldn’t have guns. I don’t know anyone who disagrees with that premise.”
The proposed legislation also includes measures supported by the pro-gun community, including fixing interstate travel laws to allow sportsmen to transport firearms across state lines.
It also bans the federal government from creating a national firearms registry, something strongly opposed by gun owners.
But observers have doubted whether any gun bill can get through Congress. In the Senate, several conservative senators led by Kentucky’s Rand Paul have threatened to filibuster any gun legislation. The Republican-controlled House is also not thought to have an appetite for new gun laws.
The compromise proposed by Manchin and Toomey is a watered down version of what many Democrats had hoped for in a gun control overhaul.
Many had hoped for a more expansive requirement for background checks. And anti-gun liberals like California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein had pushed for a so-called nationwide assault weapons ban, something that even Democrats admit couldn’t get through the Senate.
While Manchin and Toomey expressed optimism that the legislation would pass, the NRA made clear it will oppose it.
“The sad truth is that no background check would have prevented the tragedies in Newtown, Aurora or Tucson,” the organization said.
“We need a serious and meaningful solution that addresses crime in cities like Chicago, addresses mental health deficiencies, while at the same time protecting the rights of those of us who are not a danger to anyone,” the NRA said.