Sen. Pat Toomey wants local cops informed of failed firearms background checks
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley, is taking another run at the nation’s gun laws.
This time, he has put his name on a bill that would attempt to close what he sees as a loophole that allows thousands of people who attempt to buy a gun illegally to walk away without consequences.
“When a person has been convicted of a crime and is disqualified from purchasing a gun and attempts to do so, that person is committing a crime,” Toomey said. “The FBI very seldom prosecutes those cases, but the state attorneys general might want to prosecute them.”
Toomey joined Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., in 2013 in an unsuccessful bid to pass a bill calling for universal background checks on gun buyers. This new proposal, he said, should stand a better chance of collecting the 60 votes needed to pass it in the Senate.
Based in part on laws that already exist in Pennsylvania and 12 other states, the bill would require the FBI to inform state and local authorities anytime a person who is barred from purchasing a gun attempts to do so but fails a background check.
In Pennsylvania, state police oversee background checks through state and federal databases. Informing local authorities of failed background checks has been the law of the land for more than two decades.
Since 1998, failed background checks have led to the arrest of 2,269 people in Pennsylvania wanted on fugitive warrants, according to state police figures. That does not include people arrested on other charges after investigations started by local police or state troopers after failed background checks. In 2017, such investigations led to more than 800 arrests in Pennsylvania.
But in more than two-thirds of all states, there are is no such requirement.
The bipartisan Senate bill has the backing of Chris Coons, D-Del., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Doug Jones, D-Ala. It would require the FBI to make a referral to state and local law enforcement anytime a would-be gun buyer fails to pass a background check.
“I do think it’s a good tool, and I’ve spoken with a number of district attorneys in Pennsylvania who really like it,” Toomey said. “I hear from a lot of fellow supporters of the Second Amendment that we have laws on the books that aren’t being properly enforced. This is a measure that would address that.”
Shira Goodman of CeaseFirePA said the bill is narrowly tailored and should pass muster with the Senate.
Firearms Owners Against Crime has endorsed it, Toomey said.
Although the bill is a step back from the Manchin-Toomey bill proposed in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School murders, Toomey said he hasn’t given up hope that universal background checks will someday become law.
Although a universal background check bill passed the House 240-190 in February, Toomey said he fears it will meet the same fate the Manchin-Toomey bill has met in the Republican-controlled Senate.
“I am absolutely behind Manchin-Toomey. We’re just trying to determine whether there is some variation that would allow us to increase the number of Republicans who would support it. It is not clear that we have the 60 votes today,” Toomey said. “But I am in continuing discussions with colleagues to see if there is some version of Manchin-Toomey that would pass.”
Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .