A bright spot in Washington, D.C. this week was the passage of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, a rare compromise in gun control legislation between the two parties in Congress. Two Pennsylvania Republicans, in particular, joined in the bipartisan efforts in Congress: Sen. Pat Toomey and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick.
Toomey, the commonwealth’s outgoing senator, was one of the Senate 15 Republicans on board with the bill – and one of its leading negotiators.
The $13 billion legislation seeks to expand background checks for gun buyers under age 21, limit firearm possession by domestic violence offenders, provide federal grants to states enacting red flag laws, and fund mental health and school safety measures. Talking with reporters on Thursday, Toomey said the bipartisan gun legislation is a “significant step” in keeping guns out of the wrong hands. With Toomey and 14 other Republicans on board, the bill passed the Senate by a filibuster-proof 65-33 vote. The House of Representatives then passed the bill Friday afternoon by a vote of 234 to 193, with Fitzpatrick as the lone Pennsylvania Republican joining Democrats in the affirmative.
“This bipartisan gun safety bill protects the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens while taking steps to make our communities safer,” Toomey said in a statement. “This represents significant progress in keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and the dangerously mentally ill.”
Democrats in Harrisburg, who have been unsuccessful in getting gun control legislation brought up for consideration, applauded the U.S. Senate’s efforts, with Gov. Tom Wolf calling it the most significant update to the nation’s gun laws in decades.
“It’s terribly sad that the Uvalde shooting had to occur in order for Congress to finally act in a coordinated manner to protect our children, keep our schools safe, and reduce the plague of gun violence that’s been terrorizing our country,” Wolf said in a statement. “Nonetheless, I’m grateful that both sides of the aisle are finally working together to combat the bloodshed. I’m eager for swift action by the House and a signing by President Biden – it’s time to make history, it’s time to start saving lives.”
Despite the bipartisan support in the Senate, the National Rifle Association has opposed any gun control efforts. Toomey, whose background-check legislation failed in 2012 following the Sandy Hook shooting, emphasized that this legislation doesn’t infringe on Second Amendment rights. However, the NRA opposes the legislation, saying it “falls short at every level.”
“It does little to truly address violent crime while opening the door to unnecessary burdens on the exercise of Second Amendment freedom by law-abiding gun owners,” the NRA’s statement said.
“I don’t know what the NRA is objecting to,” Toomey said Thursday. “You know, the NRA in 1999 fully supported expanding background checks, and they decided they were no longer in favor of expanding background checks. So, I don’t know what their rationale is on this particular bill on this particular day.”
With the legislation through both chambers of Congress, it now heads to President Joe Biden’s desk for final approval.