Fitzpatrick backs tougher background checks

WASHINGTON -- Bucks County's Mike Fitzpatrick -- the kind of moderate House Republican whose support will be critical to getting any of President Obama's proposed gun laws approved by Congress -- has backed the idea of strengthening criminal background checks.

"It is imperative that we close the loopholes and fix the nation's background check system," Fitzpatrick said in a prepared release, endorsing one of the main prongs Obama proposed Wednesday afternoon.

Fitzpatrick, whose battleground district north of Philadelphia morphs from the suburbs to open farmland, has the kind of constituency that will likely pull him in both directions on gun control.

His statement did not mention Obama's call for an assault weapons ban or ban on high-capacity gun magazines, but he said "I am prepared to give a full and fair consideration to any reasonable piece of legislation," and that "Vice President Biden should be recognized for being inclusive in his recent meetings with stakeholders."

"Our focus should be on measures which have the widest positive effect that have the support of both Republicans and Democrats in Congress," Fitzpatrick said. "My sense is those include background checks and mental health records reporting with the goal of keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of dangerous people."

UPDATE: Separately, Sen. Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, also opened the door to backing some of Obama's ideas, though he didn't endorse any specific proposals, saying he was reviewing the president's plan.

"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," Toomey said in a statement.

Democrats from the area have already largely backed Obama's plan. Philly Mayor Nutter was at the president's afternoon roll out and is scheduled to testify to Democratic members of Congress this afternoon about new gun laws. But support from urban Democrats, while needed, won't be enough. Obama said specifically that he will need more than "the usual suspects" to back his call for new gun laws.

Fitzpatrick has joined other Philadelphia-area Republicans in going against the tide of the House GOP caucus when he supported the compromise deal on the fiscal cliff and the $51 billion Sandy relief package.

His support, and that of other Republicans, will be a necessity for any of Obama's gun measures to get through the House, where most of the GOP and some Democrats are expected to put up fierce resistance.

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