This post has been updated.
In the wake of the Charleston shooting, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) are considering ways to renew their failed push to expand meaningful background checks on gun purchases.
In separate interviews Tuesday night, at a reception before a ceremony hosted by Sandy Hook families where Toomey was honored, the senators discussed their desire to find a new way forward.
“We want to make sure we have the votes. Pat’s going to have to, and I’ll work with him, to get some of our colleagues on the Republican side,” Manchin said, adding that he hasn’t talked directly to Toomey about a revival.
Manchin specifically mentioned an effort aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of people diagnosed with mental illness.
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Though the effort is far from being fully formed, Toomey also said he’s looking for opportunities to reintroduce something related to combating gun violence.
“What I’m trying to figure out is, is there something that could get the support of the 60 votes that we would need in the Senate,” Toomey said. “Joe Manchin was and is a great partner and someone I will continue to work with, and I’m open to exploring what is possible.”
He added that nothing was imminent, “but if we stay at it I think we’ll find a way to make progress.”
If the two senators team up to tackle any facet of gun control, it would mark a significant shift in the political debate nearly a week after nine people were killed at a Bible study group in downtown Charleston, S.C.
President Obama noted last week that once again, someone got a gun who shouldn’t have had access to it.
“Now is the time for mourning and for healing, but let’s be clear: At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency,” the president said on Thursday.
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Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday that something must be done to expand background checks.
“Is that asking too much? Couldn’t we at least do this little thing to stop people who are mentally ill, people who are criminals from purchasing guns?” Reid said on the Senate floor.
But any sort of gun-control effort would face an uphill battle in the GOP-majority Senate. Since Manchin and Toomey’s effort to tighten background check rules for firearm purchases narrowly failed in April 2013, there’s been precious little debate on the subject.
Accepting his award on Tuesday night, a visibly emotional Toomey said that despite some of the political fallout from his conservative base, he’d “do it again in a heartbeat.” He said he does have two regrets, however. One, that the 2013 bill didn’t pass. And, “that it took me so long before I raised my voice on this very important issue,” he said.
Before becoming the GOP face of the background check fight, Toomey, a conservative fiscal hawk mostly famous for forcing the late Arlen Specter to switch political parties, shocked the political class by co-sponsoring a gun-control bill with Manchin.
Toomey, who is up for reelection next year, has spoken little about the 2013 failure, refocusing his policy fights on his budgetary wheelhouse.
Toomey was honored Tuesday night by families who know too well the unspeakable pain of losing a loved one in a senseless mass killing.
He was there to accept the inaugural Champion Award from the group Sandy Hook Promise whose members are related to some of the 20 elementary school children and six educators murdered in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012. In the absence of political will, Sandy Hook Promise uses marriage equality as a model for how public pressure can force change.
“Sometimes you need a good failure to spur you on for success. It was a lesson we learned that not everything can be solved through legislation and politics,” said Nicole Hockley, whose son, Dylan, died at Sandy Hook, before the event.
It was the horror of that massacre that spurred Toomey to defy his political party and partner with Manchin on the background-check bill.
The day the bill failed, with only Toomey and three other Republicans supporting it, as Sandy Hook families looked on from the Senate gallery, Obama called it “shameful.”
Just this week, during an interview with podcaster Marc Maron, Obama said that day was “the closest I came to feeling disgusted. I was pretty disgusted.”