Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, a conservative Republican, may turn out to be a key supporter of background checks for gun purchases.

 

Toomey gets an A rating from the National Rifle Association and once famously said that his idea of gun control is "a steady aim." So it was a national story when it emerged recently that Toomey's been talking with West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin about supporting a federal law requiring background checks. Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell says Toomey's support would be a political breakthrough.

"Because right now, the Republican senator that's co-sponsored this is Sen. (Mark) Kirk of Illinois, who's got an F rating from the NRA," Rendell said. "So that doesn't cut any mustard in terms of bolstering other Republicans."

Rendell will speak at a Tuesday rally at Toomey's office sponsored by CeaseFirePA. Director Shira Goodman said while Pennsylvania has background checks for handgun sales, the story of the man who shot eight people at the Western Psychiatric Institute last year demonstrates the need for a national law.

"He tried to buy a gun in Oregon and was blocked," Goodman said. "But then he went to New Mexico, and he didn't have to get a background check. And then he brought that gun here outside of Pittsburgh and he killed many people."

Rendell says Toomey's move is good policy and good politics.

"I think Pat Toomey is smart enough to realize that the overwhelming number of Americans and Pennsylvanians support background checks," Rendell said.

Toomey declined an interview, but a spokeswoman said he's "talking to a number of his colleagues, including Sen. Manchin in hopes they can find a workable, common-sense approach."