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Toomey says gun proposal well-intended

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Saturday, April 20, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

HARRISBURG — Despite some low-level rumbling at the outset, Pennsylvania conservatives stood to applaud Republican Sen. Pat Toomey on Friday when he made his case on why he pushed an unsuccessful bill to expand background checks for gun purchases.

The Senate failed to pass his amendment, offered with West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, to require background checks for rifles and shotguns sold on the Internet and at gun shows. Toomey said he appreciated the opportunity to explain it.

“I just want you to understand why I did what I did,” he told several hundred attendees of the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference. “We had a vote on Wednesday. I lost. I get that. I intend to turn my attention to my wheelhouse issues” of fiscal restraint and unraveling President Obama's health care overhaul.

The National Rifle Association called the defeat of the Toomey-Manchin proposal “a devastating blow to Obama's agenda to regulate guns.” Toomey has a lifetime A-rating from the NRA, he said.

The legislation was intended to make it harder for criminals and “dangerously mentally ill people to obtain weapons,” Toomey said.

He agrees with those who said the measure likely would not have made a difference in Newtown, Conn., in December, where gunman Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six adults at an elementary school, because the shooter's mother obtained the guns.

But Toomey said it might have made a difference in the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings in which 32 people died. The Virginia government called gunman Seung-Hui Cho “dangerously unstable and a threat,” Toomey said, but that information never got to those performing background checks.

Inaccurate information about his bill circulated, Toomey said. He and Manchin did not propose a “gun registry,” for example, but some conservatives opposed the bill because they feared the government would establish a database on guns. Toomey said any federal employee who began compiling such data would have committed a felony carrying a 15-year prison term under their bill.

Before Toomey spoke, Steve Piotrowski of Norristown, the founder of Citizens for Liberty, said he thinks Toomey was wrong on the issue.

“He came up as a Tea Party candidate. He turned his back on a lot of people,” Piotrowski said. His sister-in-law Jackie Piotrowski, a preschool teacher involved in the Tea Party group, said she campaigned for Toomey before but will no longer.

“It's just one issue,” Lowman Henry, president of the leadership conference, said afterward. Conference attendees “have been with (Toomey) in the trenches for 15 years. In the end, it was a speed bump in the road.”

Among conservatives, “there's got to be space to disagree,” said David Taylor, executive director of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association.

“We can't form a circle of conservatives and start firing at one another,” said Taylor's boss, Frederick Anton III, president and CEO of PMA. Anton said Toomey, a former House member, was a “rock-ribbed economic conservative long before he was elected to the U.S. Senate.”

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter.

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