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Pat Toomey still backs background checks - but there's still little chance of passage after Las Vegas shooting

Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican, said he still supports expanding background checks for gun purchases, but does not think the measure will come to a vote - even after Las Vegas.

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa. at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa. at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)Read moreJ. Scott Applewhite

WASHINGTON — Sen. Pat Toomey reiterated his support for expanding background checks for gun purchases Tuesday — but offered few signs that the idea has any chance of approval by the Republican-controlled Congress.

"I still support the policy in that legislation and I'll continue to be looking for opportunities to move forward with it," Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, said of the 2013 bill he cosponsored with West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin.

That measure, introduced in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Conn., would have expanded background checks to cover nearly all gun purchases. It won 55 Senate votes, with 60 needed, the closest any bill strengthening gun laws has come to advancing in Congress in years It also made Toomey one of the few Republicans to support rules tightening gun laws.

He has repeatedly said since then that he still supports the idea, including during his reelection campaign last year.

But Toomey has also said that the votes are not there to advance the bill right now. His proposal failed even with a Democratic majority in 2013, and the chamber is more conservative now, with Republicans having taken the majority.

"We have seen that we don't have the votes right now," Toomey told the Inquirer and Daily News in June, on the day an assailant opened fire on Republican members of Congress practicing for a baseball game, badly wounding Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

After the Las Vegas massacre, there is no sign of change. When House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) was asked, for example, about gun laws Tuesday morning, he stressed the need to focus on mental-health concerns. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said it would be "inappropriate" to talk about gun legislation while the Las Vegas investigation is still underway.

"We're in the middle of the investigation. We'll see what that reveals and at the end of that, that would be an appropriate time to discuss it," McConnell said at a news conference. "In the meantime, our priority is on tax reform."

Toomey, asked Tuesday if he would actually have a chance to bring his background-check bill up, said only, "We're going to work with my colleagues on it."

It's unclear if background checks would have prevented the Las Vegas shooting. The gunman appears to have acquired his weapons legally and passed the required checks, the Los Angeles Times reported.