Toomey: Fighting for gun-safety reform while respecting rights

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Sen. Pat Toomey talks to the media after the recent debate in Pittsburgh.

The most heartbreaking meeting I have ever taken as a member of the U.S. Senate was with the families of the students and faculty who lost their lives during the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. Looking into the eyes of parents who lost children, and spouses who lost the loves of their lives, was an incredibly sad experience that will stay with me always.

I was particularly struck by the focus on the part of these parents and spouses on making real progress toward commonsense gun-safety reforms. There was no talk of banning entire categories of firearms or widely used ammunition, which would punish law-abiding citizens. Instead, the conversation focused on how to best keep firearms away from people who should not have them, such as criminals and the dangerously mentally ill. The conversation was about how to stop more tragedies like the one that took 26 lives at Sandy Hook.

Law-abiding citizens have a constitutional right to own and use guns, and I will always defend that right. I am a gun owner and I take my son shooting, but I also believe that a three-minute background check to prevent a gun purchase by someone who has forfeited his right to a gun is common sense and does not violate anyone's Second Amendment rights. Unfortunately, the current federal background check system has some shortcomings, which I am working to address with my Democratic colleague, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Pennsylvania and West Virginia are home to millions of sportsmen and hunters. Manchin and I both believe that bridging the divide in the Senate on gun-safety legislation will only occur in a bipartisan manner, likely spearheaded by senators from states with strong gun cultures. Our approach is simple: Improve the federal background check system to include sales made online and at gun shows, while strengthening the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.

The work Manchin and I did to expand background checks represents the closest the Senate has come to improving federal gun-safety laws in decades. Since this initial vote, the Manchin-Toomey legislation has been considered and introduced again, and I remain fully committed to passing this commonsense, bipartisan legislation.

Another area in desperate need of bipartisan consensus is preventing terrorists from legally purchasing firearms. My view is simple: If the federal government has deemed you too dangerous to board an airplane, you shouldn't be able to buy a gun either.

This summer, I worked with Sen. Susan Collins of Maine on, and voted for, "No-Fly, No-Buy" legislation. Unfortunately, partisan politics prevented this commonsense gun-safety reform from passing. Like so many other issues in Washington, many Republicans and Democrats talk past one another, instead of working to find common ground. Real gun-safety progress in the Senate is not possible without support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Gun-safety leaders such as Democratic former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords share this view and recognize my leadership on this issue, which is why she has endorsed me for reelection.

I am proud of my efforts to achieve real gun-safety reform while respecting the Second Amendment rights of the law-abiding. There is no panacea to stopping gun violence. It is clear, though, that Congress needs to do more to keep guns away from criminals, the dangerously mentally ill, and terrorists. If I am fortunate enough to be reelected this November, rest assured that I will continue to work with anyone who hopes to make progress on gun-safety laws while preserving the Second Amendment rights of all law-abiding citizens.

For more information, visit www.toomeyforsenate.com.