June 25, 2022
Two Republican congressmen from Pennsylvania joined Democrats to help pass a bill which strengthened the nation's federal gun control laws for the first time in nearly three decades.
Sen. Pat Toomey and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick are among the 29 GOP legislators who crossed party lines to support the bill signed into law by President Joe Biden on Saturday.
It includes billions of dollars for mental health services and school security improvements, enhanced background checks for gun buyers younger than 21 and an incentive for states to create "red flag laws," which allow temporary firearm confiscations, the New York Times reports.
No federal gun control bills have been passed since 1994. That's when a bipartisan group of lawmakers passed a ban on civilians possessing assault rifles and large-capacity magazines. The law expired after a decade.
All Democrats in both chambers supported the bill. The vote in the Senate was 65 to 33, with 15 Republicans supporting the bill. The vote in the House was 234 to 193, with 14 Republicans supporting the bill.
Toomey was one of the main Republicans behind the legislation, City & State PA reports. He also played a central role in negotiating the bill's passage.
“(It) isn’t a gun control bill — it’s common sense legislation to strengthen background checks, provide federal assistance for state crisis intervention programs, enhance penalties for gun trafficking and straw purchases, and invest in school safety and mental health," Toomey said in a release.
The senator was one of the first Republicans in the nation to publicly support background checks in the aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, the Inquirer reports.
He and Sen. Joe Manchin co-sponsored a bill which would have expanded background checks to all commercial gun sales in 2013 and again earlier this year, but they were unsuccessful.
At present, federal law doesn't require background checks for online sales or purchases at gun shows so long as they're made between private citizens from the same state. Federally licensed firearm dealers always need to do a background check, regardless of where they make a sale.
Toomey opposes sweeping bans on assault weapons and high capacity magazines. He sees background checks as a way to allow law-abiding citizens to retain their second amendment rights while giving the government the power to take firearms from people who present a danger to themselves or others.
Fitzpatrick voted yes on a different House bill which would have raised the age to buy assault weapons to 21 and capped magazine capacities at 15 bullets two weeks ago. It passed the House but was not taken up by the Senate.
He also voted in favor of the bill passed on Saturday.
"You get a lot of blowback on votes like this for sure. But it's the right thing to do," Fitzpatrick told 6ABC. "We have no greater obligation, not just as elected officials, but as human beings than to take care of our kids,"
He's supported stronger gun control measures in the past, as well. This is not the only area where Fitzpatrick is a moderate. He also acknowledges climate change as a serious issue and supports same-sex marriage.
Fitzpatrick is one of just nine house Republicans who won in a district Biden took in 2020. This means he would likely get less flak from voters over his gun control stance than other GOP legislators.
But most Pennsylvania residents are not opposed to gun control legislation, according to some recent polling, even though it's known as a gun-friendly state.
Of the 664 Pennsylvanians surveyed by Giffords Law Center, a gun violence prevention organization, 55% support more gun control and 83% support universal background checks. Pollsters also found that 58% of residents would be turned off by a candidate opposed to universal background checks.
This article was edited after it was initially published.