The following is a transcript of an interview with Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania that aired on Face the Nation on Sunday, June 5, 2022.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We now turn to Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. He is one of the senators involved in bipartisan efforts to reduce gun violence. And he’s coming to us this morning from Keystone State. Senator, welcome.
SENATOR PAT TOOMEY: Good morning, Margaret.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The numbers here are pretty staggering. In 2022 there were 239 mass shootings. According to the Gun Violence Archives, a nonprofit organization that tracks them. There was one in Philadelphia overnight, killing three people, wounding 14 with a semi-automatic weapon. What happened to the American people that brought violence to this level?
Sen. TOOMEY: Yes, well, it’s a complex and multi-faceted issue, as you know, Margaret, in some cases, crime has increased tremendously in our major cities. But there are many contributing factors, in some cases prosecutors believing their job is to make sure no one goes to jail. That’s a problem. And then, of course, we have these – these horrific, sensational massacres in which a young man is obviously completely out of control and insane. And these are completely different circumstances. So it’s a big, complicated problem.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, it’s a big complicated problem. And most attempts to create any kind of solution have been abandoned. But the Democrats and Republicans just mentioned are negotiating to get something. Democrats need 10 Republican votes. You’re one of six Republicans working with Sen. Chris Murphy, he said today, that you’re all writing this law right now. It won’t ban offensive weapons, there won’t be extensive background checks as part of it. Is your proposal to extend the background check still included?
Sen. TOOMEY: Well, I really hope that we will have an expansion of background checks. You know, Senator Manchin and I have been working on this for a long time. And we’ve been trying to establish that at least for the commercial sale of firearms there should be a background check. So sales at gun shows, sales advertised over the internet. I don’t know if we’re going to get exactly what Senator Manchin and I developed a few years ago, it would probably be something different. And that’s fine. There are a number of mechanisms you could use to extend background checks. But I just think it makes sense. We all agree that violent criminals and deranged people with serious mental illnesses should not have guns. So we need a mechanism that will increase the likelihood that such a person will be identified and prevent them from legally buying a gun.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So until-
Sen. TOOMEY: — and that’s the idea behind expanding background checks.
MARGARET BRENNAN: To be clear, because in 2013, 2015, 2019 you proposed expanding the Manchin-Toomey background check. They say what currently survives is essentially a watered-down version of it. Where’s the difference?
Sen. TOOMEY: Well that’s a moving target if you will, we’re still in discussions and we’re still trying to figure out what mechanism will allow us to get the votes that we would need. Well, I can’t say exactly. Margaret, it hasn’t been finally resolved. But something in the area of expanding background checks is very good in my opinion, it’s certainly on the table and I hope it will be part of a final package.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, we’re seeing overwhelming support in our CBS polls for background checks, which is why it’s interesting that it’s difficult. There was a Republican congressman in upstate New York, I’m sure you heard about it. Chris Jacobs. Representing a district near Buffalo where there was a horrific mass shooting a few weeks ago, he dropped out of his re-election campaign. Seven days after publicly endorsing a federal ban on assault weapons and restrictions on high-capacity magazines. That’s what he had to say.
REP. CHRIS JACOBS SOT ON TAPE: We have a problem in our country in relation to our two major parties. If you deviate from a party position, you will be destroyed. For Republicans it came — it’s become pretty clear to me over the past week that this issue is gun control. Any gun control.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you agree with him?
Sen. TOOMEY: No, I haven’t. I think there’s a wide range of opinions among elected Republicans, just as there are among Republican voters across the country.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well –
Sen. TOOMEY: -In my case, I drafted a bill with Senator Manchin and lobbied for expanding background checks in 2013, as you pointed out, again in 2015-
MARGARET BRENNAN: — right, but you couldn’t get enough Republicans to vote with you to get it passed —
Sen. TOOMEY: – We voted on this in 2016. I was re-elected – I was – I was re-elected without a primary challenge. So I think that tells you something too
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, excuse me, I’m sorry, my voice. The President himself has championed this idea that he can be a deal breaker broker. Does he have to get involved? Or does the president’s involvement reduce the chances of success here?
Sen. TOOMEY: Yeah, the problem is that I think the president might have been a president who was trying to bring people together. But he has chosen not to take that approach. Since day one, he has sided with the far left of his party and has really not turned to Republicans. He gave a speech on the subject, endorsing a policy that he knows for sure has no chance of passing the Senate and probably wouldn’t even get 50 votes, much less the Democrats the 60 votes would get that we would need. So, once again, the President is not very helpful. I think at the end of the day it will come down to whether we can reach consensus in the United States Senate. Intensive discussions are underway. It includes people who have not dealt with this topic in the past. I cannot guarantee any result. But to me, it feels like we’re closer than we’ve ever been since I’ve been in the Senate.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you can get four other Republicans to side with you, the six that are negotiating?
Sen. TOOMEY: My hope is that we get a lot more. My hope is that we get at least half of the Republican conference. You know that should be the goal here. We have to be realistic about what that can do. Senator Murphy alluded to the idea that it won’t be everything. Surely the Democrats would want to. We’ll see where it ends.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Is there a risk that the Republican Party will be associated with gun violence if you don’t get those votes?
Sen. TOOMEY: You know, look, I think the Republicans have been very consistent advocates of Second and Second Amendment rights. Republican voters expect Republicans to defend the Second Amendment. I think there’s a landing spot that’s consistent with the second amendment, by the way, since I’ve advocated expanding background checks, I think it might make sense to encourage states to have some sort of warning flag law while it’s appropriate is due process. I think there are safety regulations for the school, there are mental health issues that we could address. So there are things we could do that would be constructive, that are consistent with Republican values, and I hope we will get there.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator, thank you for your time today. We will monitor the outcome of these Face the Nation talks. We’ll be back in a minute.