National Vietnam Veterans Day

Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, seen here at a National Vietnam War Veterans Day ceremony at Lancaster Airport on March 29, 2019, has pressed Congress to pass gun background check legislation he co-authored with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. 

THE ISSUE

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon announced earlier this month that the company would stop selling short-barrel rifle ammunition (as well as handguns in Alaska, the only state in which it still had been selling them). The company also discouraged customers from openly carrying weapons in Walmart and Sam’s Club stores, even in states that allow it; other retailers followed suit. The Associated Press reported Thursday that President Donald Trump could announce as soon as this week the gun control measures he would support.

On Thursday, 145 chief executives of major companies issued a letter urging the U.S. Senate and President Donald Trump to pass and sign a bill requiring stronger background checks on gun sales and a “strong” federal red flag law.

A red flag law would allow the temporary removal of firearms from individuals deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.

The companies represented included Dick’s Sporting Goods, Levi Strauss & Co., Reddit, Twitter, Uber, Lyft, Yelp, Conde Nast, Pinterest, Airbnb and Royal Caribbean Cruises.

“This is a public health crisis that demands urgent action,” the CEOs wrote.

“We have a responsibility and obligation to stand up for the safety of our employees, customers and all Americans in the communities we serve across the country. Doing nothing about America’s gun violence crisis is simply unacceptable and it is time to stand with the American public on gun safety.”

The conventional wisdom holds that if no real change happened after the massacre of 20 first graders — babies — at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 then no real change ever will occur. There was some hope last year when teens across the nation marched for stronger gun regulations after 14 students and three staff members were gunned down in a Parkland, Florida, high school.

But then, as time and time before, legislative efforts were blocked.

Overwhelming majorities of Americans continue to want to see gun safety measures pass. And those majorities include gun owners.

According to an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll released last week, 77% of gun owners want to see Congress pass background-check legislation and 62% want to see a national red flag law passed.

We know that criminals will find a way to get their hands on weapons if they’re intent on killing. We know law-abiding citizens buy and handle their guns responsibly. But not everyone does.

Background check legislation authored by Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey and Sen. Joe Manchin — a conservative Democrat from the conservative state of West Virginia — is narrowly focused.

As Toomey states on his website, “Much like Pennsylvania law, it would require background checks for all commercial sales, including sales at gun shows or over the internet that are not currently subject to background checks.”

As Toomey alluded, Pennsylvania law already requires background checks on all handgun sales; the Toomey-Manchin legislation would extend those checks to internet and gun show sales of long guns, closing the existing loophole.

As the law now stands, someone purchasing a firearm from a licensed dealer at a gun show has to undergo a background check. But if he buys a gun from someone who isn’t a dealer, no such check is required. Which isn’t fair to the licensed dealers — or to the rest of us, who risk being hurt by a gun sold without a background check.

According to a March 2017 survey by Pew Research Center, 84% of respondents favored, or strongly favored, making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks.

Especially nowadays, there are not many other questions on which 84% of Americans agree.

The Toomey-Manchin proposal also “strengthens the existing instant check system by encouraging states to put all their available records into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System,” according to a fact sheet from Toomey’s office.

As his office points out, records on the Virginia Tech shooter — who killed 32 people at that college in 2007 — “that would have put him on the prohibited purchasers list had not been entered into the system.”

Would the Toomey-Manchin legislation prevent every mass shooting? Of course not. But Toomey’s office contends that among the deaths it could have prevented were those of eight people in Texas who were shot in 2015 by a convicted felon who bought a handgun online.

There is another component of the Toomey-Manchin legislation that we find promising: the proposed establishment of a national commission to study the causes of mass violence in the U.S. It would look at “all aspects of the problem, including mental health, guns, school safety and portrayals of violence in the media,” Toomey’s office said.

A 1996 ban prohibiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from conducting research on gun violence and its impact on public health was lifted by former President Barack Obama by executive order in 2013. But Congress has refused to fund such research.

As we noted in a January 2016 editorial, even the former congressman responsible for the ban regrets it. “Research could have been continued on gun violence without infringing on the rights of gun owners, in the same fashion that the highway industry continued its research without eliminating the automobile,” wrote former Republican Rep. Jay Dickey, of Arkansas, in a letter to a congressional task force.

We agreed then, and we agree still.

There are steps Congress could take that would make us all safer without infringing on Second Amendment rights. We laud Toomey for having the guts to keep pressing his colleagues to take those steps.

According to The (Allentown) Morning Call, Toomey, Manchin and Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut were on the phone with President Trump for nearly 40 minutes Wednesday discussing a bill to expand background checks.

We hope the president realizes how popular such a bill would be with the overwhelming majority of Americans. And gives Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell the go-ahead to pass it.