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Toomey's Response To National Firearms Policy April 30, 2013

Thank you for contacting me about national firearms policy. I appreciate hearing from you on this important issue.

Like many Pennsylvanians, I have long been a supporter of the Second Amendment. Americans have an individual right to bear arms for self-protection, hunting and recreation. In fact, during my tenure in the House of Representatives (1999-2005), my record of supporting gun owners' rights earned me an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA).

As important as Second Amendment rights are, our society recognizes that these rights do not apply to criminals and the dangerously mentally ill. Writing for the conservative majority in the landmark Supreme Court case, District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the court struck down the D.C. gun ban, Justice Antonin Scalia stated, "Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill...or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms." In other words, Justice Scalia affirmed that laws preventing criminals and the dangerously mentally ill from obtaining firearms do not infringe on the Second Amendment.

As you know, I recently introduced an amendment, along with Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), to the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013 (S. 649). Our amendment had three parts. The first was to improve state compliance with the existing National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The second part was to expand background checks to commercial sales at gun shows or through the internet. These first two parts of our amendment were designed to make it more difficult for criminals and dangerously mentally ill persons to acquire firearms. The third part would have provided law abiding citizens with expanded opportunities to exercise their Second Amendment Rights.

With regard to the first part of the amendment, NICS relies on states to provide records of persons who should not possess firearms. Compliance varies greatly with some states providing very few records. The amendment requires states to completely participate in NICS in order to be eligible for certain types of federal grant funding.

Full state participation in NICS would help prevent the kind of tragedy that took place at Virginia Tech in 2007. Prior to that mass shooting, in which 32 people were murdered and 23 were injured, shooter Seung Hui Cho had been found mentally ill by a Virginia judge. However, Virginia did not submit that court record to NICS. The absence of this critical information in NICS enabled Cho to pass a background check and purchase the handguns he used for the shooting. This is one example of how the threat of gun violence can be reduced through improvement of the NICS system, a salient objective of the Manchin-Toomey amendment.

The second part, expansion of background checks to other venues such as gun shows, is not a new idea. In the aftermath of the Columbine High School tragedy in 1999, the NRA supported expanding background checks at gun shows during consideration by the House of Representatives of the Mandatory Gun Show Background Check Act (H.R. 2122). I agreed with the NRA then, and so did many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle who voted in favor of this legislation.

Current law already requires a background check through NICS for all sales conducted through a federally licensed gun dealer. The Manchin-Toomey amendment would have required individuals seeking to purchase firearms from a non-dealer at a gun show to undergo the same background check as required for purchases from licensed dealers. The amendment would not have mandated "universal" background checks. Personal, non-commercial transfers would not have required background checks.

The third part of our amendment would have been achieved through a number of measures. These measures included allowing active duty military service members to buy a gun in their home state and providing a new legal process for restoring the Second Amendment rights of veterans who, under current law, can be unfairly prevented from acquiring a firearm. Another benefit included protecting law abiding gun owners from arrest or detention by fixing interstate travel laws.

Contrary to some reports, the amendment would not have created or enabled a national gun registry. I have always strongly opposed a gun registry, so our amendment prohibited the creation of a registry and would have established a new felony offense, punishable by a 15-year prison sentence, for any official who attempted to create a federal registry.

Senator Manchin and I posted the text of our amendment on our websites on April 11, 2013, thereby providing six days for our colleagues and the public to review the 49-page measure before a vote. On April 17, 2013, despite bipartisan support and a 54-46 vote in favor, the amendment was defeated due to a 60-vote threshold that was agreed to by unanimous consent.

I acknowledge that some will disagree with the Manchin-Toomey amendment. I am under no illusion that the amendment would necessarily prevent a determined criminal or dangerously mentally ill person from acquiring a firearm. No system can be 100 percent effective in denying firearms to those that should not have them, but that does not mean we should not try to improve the current system. In my view, keeping guns out of the hands of these people is not gun control, but common sense.

Thank you again for your correspondence. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future if I can be of assistance.

Sincerely,

Pat Toomey
U.S. Senator, Pennsylvania



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