WASHINGTON – Could Republican Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey be a GOP bridge that helps secure a deal on background checks on guns?
His office on Friday confirmed that Toomey, a strong second amendment advocate, is in discussions on pending gun laws that have struggled to gain traction with Republicans and many pro-gun Democrats in the Senate.
“Sen. Toomey and his staff are talking to a lot of folks -- both in Pennsylvania and in the Capitol -- on the issue of guns in the hopes that we get to an approach that works,” a Toomey spokeswoman wrote in an e-mail.
There has been no agreement, though, as of Friday afternoon, and it's not yet clear how close any potential deal might be.
Earlier, Politico reported that Sen. Joe Manchin, (D., W.Va.) had reached out to Toomey to try to find a GOP partner on a background check bill that has faltered in the face of opposition. The two have exchanged draft proposals since talks began Wednesday, Politico reported.
UPDATED: Shortly after that news broke, Philadelphia Mayor Nutter and former Pennsylvania Gov. Rendell announced that they, along with CeaseFirePA, will lead a gathering outside of Toomey's Philadelphia office Tuesday to call on him to "support common sense gun legislation ... especially the expansion of the background check system."
Shira Goodman, CeaseFirePA's executive director, said the event was in the works for about a week. She has met with Toomey and remained in contact with his office, monitoring the senator's stand. He has not embraced background checks, but also hasn't ruled them out. He has not made any public comments on pending gun laws since a statement in January generally expressing openness to some reforms, without endorsing any specifics.
"(He's) certainly not a no, but we didn’t know if we had a yes," Goodman said. "I think we’re getting to a moment where we want to know where he stands – what’s he going to do."
Gun control advocates believe they need a credible conservative voice, preferably one from a state with a strong gun culture, to sign on to a background check bill in order to rally enough support and overcome fears – stoked by the NRA -- that broader checks will be a step towards a national gun registry or allow for the seizure of firearms. An endorsement from a gun-rights Republican could provide critical momentum for President Obama’s last, best hope for significant legislation on firearms.
Toomey would fit the bill. He has a strong record on the second amendment: he was endorsed by the NRA when he ran for senate in 2010, and the group’s lobbying arms features one of his speeches on its Web site.
But he also has signaled that he might be open to some new gun laws following the school shooting in Newtown. In January, after President Obama rolled out his package of proposals on guns, Toomey issued a statement saying, “Second Amendment rights are important to many Pennsylvanians and must be protected, but there may be areas of agreement with the White House that can be addressed to improve public safety.”
In a meeting with Toomey and contact with his staff, Goodman was under the impression that he would consider the idea of expanding background checks, though he was unlikely to support a so-called assault weapons ban or limits on high-capacity magazines, she told the Inquirer Friday. Other gun-control advocates who have met with Toomey made similar comments in January.
Reports about his talks with Manchin have "given us reason to be optimistic," Goodman said. In a best-case scenario, she hopes Toomey "becomes the trigger point to get this done."
The rally will go forward either way, Goodman said, to either show Toomey the public backing for new gun laws, or to thank him if he announces his support.
"We want to make sure that he is hearing from Pennsyvlanians," she said.
If Toomey was to sign on to a background check bill, it would also give Democrats hope of winning over House Republicans in the Philadelphia suburbs -- the likes of Mike Fitzpatrick, in Bucks, and Pat Meehan, in Delaware County -- who represent moderate districts where new gun laws might be more politically palatable, the Washington Post reported.