Senate Blocks Gun Control Bills

| by Robert Fowler
A gun show in Houston, TexasA gun show in Houston, Texas

Four pieces of legislation designed to prevent firearms from falling into the hands of suspected terrorists failed to pass the Senate. The failure to get a single bill passed has been attributed to partisanship and pressure from special interests.

On June 20, the Senate voted on four bills that each required a 60-vote majority to be pushed to the House for further consideration. All four failed to pass that threshold, despite public outcry over the June 12 shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. 

Omar Mateen killed 49 people and injured 53 others at a gay nightclub in Orlando. The most fatal mass shooting in modern U.S. history, the massacre prompted Senate Democrats to filibuster the Senate floor for 15 hours last week, demanding action on gun legislation.

Senate Democrats had introduced two bills that would have banned people on the FBI’s terrorist watch list from purchasing a gun and expanded background checks to gun shows and online purchases. Senate Republicans balked at the measures, along with the National Rifle Association, which lobbied hard against their passing, CNN reports.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans pushed two bills that would have updated the background check system and placed a delay on people on the terror watch lists who were purchasing firearms, but Democrats ridiculed the pieces of legislation as ineffective half-measures.

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, one of the most vocal critics of his Republican colleagues’ resistance to stricter gun laws, expressed disgust after two bills he had sponsored failed to pass.

“I’m mortified by today’s vote but I’m not surprised by it,” Murphy said, according to CNN. “The NRA has a viselike grip on this place.”

The first bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, would have increased funding for background checks, requiring states to provide mental health records and would have alerted law enforcement whenever a person who had been placed on the terror watch list purchased a firearm.

Grassley’s bill only amassed 53 yeas and 47 nays, the Senate voting almost purely on party lines. The only non-Republican to vote in favor of the legislation was Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, according to Slate.

The second bill, sponsored by Murphy, would have required a background check for gun purchasers at gun shows or online purchases. That bill lost by 44 yeas to 56 nays, with only one Republican, Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, in favor and three Democrats also voting against.

The third bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, would have delayed the sale of firearms to any person on the terror watch list, leaving it up to the attorney general to convince a court judge within three days to permanently prohibit the sale. That legislation received 53 years and 47 nays, with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Donnelly being the only non-Republicans in favor.

Finally, there was an amendment by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California and co-sponsored by Murphy which would have prohibited the sale of a gun to any person on the FBI’s terror watch list.

Feinstein’s bill lost by 47 years and 53 nays. The only Republicans to vote in favor were Kirk and Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky had argued that the GOP bills were more specific to addressing mass shooters such as Omar Mateen. Senate Minority Leader Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada vocally blasted those bills as insufficient.

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida voiced dismay after all four bills failed to pass, blaming the failure on the NRA’s influence.

“What am I going to tell 49 grieving families?” Nelson said, according to The New York Times. “I am going to tell them the NRA won again.”

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine has proposed a bill that ban persons on the no-fly list, a more narrow pool than the terror watch list, from purchasing guns but would allow them to appeal in court. That legislation could find itself on the Senate floor for the week of June 27.

Sources: CNN, The New York TimesSlate / Photo credit: M&R Glasgow / Flickr

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