Pat Toomey, the great compromiser?

It surprised us, too.

And not only did Pennsylvania's junior senator and tea party darling reach his hand across the aisle -- he stuck his neck out, too.

Gun control generates strong feelings, after all, especially among Republicans, who tend to view any legislation targeting firearms as an attack on the Second Amendment.

Yet Toomey, working with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, helped craft a bill that now seems to be the best shot at passing any sort of gun control reform in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.

Background checks for gun buyers now are required only for licensed gun dealers, but the bipartisan pair's bill would expand the checks to transactions at gun shows and online. It doesn't affect non-commercial transfers, such as between family members, and actually expands gun rights in some cases.

Neither side of the debate gets everything it wants in this bill.

It's not the sweeping reform that's needed, but it doesn't leave things status quo, either.

It's called compromise, and it's something that's been sorely lacking in Congress over the past several years.

Toomey deserves credit for breaking ranks, a particularly risky move the powerful National Rifle Association already has promised will cost him.


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The NRA, which boasts 5 million members, has threatened to pull its "A" rating of Toomey and Manchin, as well as any lawmaker who votes for their bill, and some gun rights advocates Thursday already were talking about finding a primary challenger for Toomey in 2016.

Despite the backlash, the senator has a powerful argument -- he doesn't even consider his bill gun control, but rather "common sense."

"Criminals and the dangerously mentally ill shouldn't have guns," Toomey said. "I don't know anyone who disagrees with that premise."

We agree, and so do the 94 percent of Pennsylvanians who favored background checks for all gun purchases in a recent Franklin & Marshall poll.

It's not a lock Toomey and Manchin's bill will clear the Senate -- much less the Republican-controlled House -- although we hope other, like-minded lawmakers are emboldened by their example.

Regardless of the fate of the bill, we give them both an "A-plus" for their political courage.