EDITORIAL: Toomey must follow through on gun laws

York Dispatch Editorial Board
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., looks to Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., during a meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018.(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

In the wake of the recent mass slaying at a Pittsburgh synagogue, which brought home anew the atrocity of gun violence in America, Sen. Pat Toomey is again urging colleagues to tighten laws regarding gun sales.

This time, he must follow through.

That the Toomey-backed measure is sorely needed is inarguable. The second-term Republican is calling for federally mandated background checks on guns sold by private dealers, online and at gun shows.

Far from the Second Amendment encroachment claimed by those who reflexively oppose any measure to increase gun safety, these background checks are actually low-hanging fruit. In fact, six states — Pennsylvania, unfortunately, not among them — already require universal background checks.

But as the epidemic of gun violence in the city of Chicago demonstrates, restrictive gun laws do little to improve public safety if looser restrictions allow easy access to weapons just across municipal lines.

Closing the so-called gun-show loophole, as Toomey is proposing, would require all firearms dealers to provide background checks, closing off a potential source of weapons to those — youths, criminals and others — who are not legally permitted to have them.

Toomey must now press his case in the Senate — and hard. After all, this is the body that turned its back on the 20 6- and 7-year-olds (and six adults) gunned down in the Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

Subsequent mass shootings in Orlando; Las Vegas; Sutherland Springs, Texas; Parkland, Florida; and countless other locations — more than 1,900 in total, leaving 2,100-plus dead and nearly 8,000 wounded — have elicited little more than messages of “thoughts and prayers” from federal lawmakers.

Give Toomey credit for at least pursuing the issue. He and Democratic colleague Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia pushed a similar loophole-closing bill to the edge of passage in the Senate in the wake of the Sandy Park shooting. Its failure was a profound disappointment.

Toomey likewise argued for the legislation in the wake of February’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. Fellow Republicans said they wanted more forceful leadership on the issue from President Donald Trump. No surprise, that was not forthcoming. (And no lack of irony: former President Barack Obama could not have made a stronger case for the legislation in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting; it was ignored by a majority in the Republican-led Senate.)

Toomey may have the wind — or, at least, a slight political breeze — at his back this go-around. House leadership in January will transfer to Democrats, who have already promised robust action on gun control. And with National Rifle Association spending down in the recent 2018 midterm elections, a significant number — though by no means a majority — of NRA-backed members went down to defeat.

Too, public support for gun-safety measures continues to be strong.

The time is right, then, for Toomey to act firmly and forcefully in obtaining Senate passage. The nation has for too long been awash in the blood of innocent mass-slaying victims. School shootings have become so common that young students practice shelter-in-place drills. And there is nowhere in society that has been left unscarred — from movie theaters, to concert halls, to workplaces, to houses of worship.

Neither Toomey nor the nation can afford for the senator to fail for a third time on such desperately needed gun-safety legislation.