Senate fails to pass new gun control restrictions in wake of Orlando shooting
Republicans and Democrats put forth four separate measures on background checks and terrorist watch lists, all which were voted down Monday night
US Senate votes down gun control measures in wake of Orlando terrorist attack.
The US Senate failed to advance new restrictions aimed at curtailing gun violence on Monday, as lawmakers voted down four separate measures just one week after a terrorist attack in Orlando marked the deadliest mass shooting in the nation’s history.
Democrats and Republicans had put forth competing amendments to both strengthen background checks and prevent suspected terrorists from purchasing firearms. But all four bills fell short of the 60 votes needed to clear a procedural hurdle in the Senate, in a near replica of a vote held in December when a pair of shooters killed 14 people and wounded 22 more in San Bernardino, California.
The series of votes on Monday evening came in the aftermath of 12 June massacre at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida, which left 49 people dead and another 53 injured. Senate Democrats had secured the votes following a 15-hour filibuster last week demanding action against gun violence, a politically vexing issue that has yet to produce any major legislative breakthroughs in more than two decades.
1,000 mass shootings in 1,260 days: this is what America’s gun crisis looks like
The chamber first voted on dueling proposals related to the federal background checks systems.
The Republican amendment, which aimed to pour more resources into prosecuting violations of the current background checks system but did not expand it in any way, fell short by a vote of 53-47. The Democratic alternative, which would have required background checks for all gun sales except for gifts and loans between immediate family members, failed by a vote of 44-56.
A subsequent series of votes failed on the issue of prohibiting access to firearms for individuals on the FBI’s terror watch list, but lawmakers have indicated a compromise might still be feasible in the coming days. Susan Collins, a Republican senator from Maine, was expected to unveil a proposal seeking middle ground between the two parties as early as Tuesday.
A proposal by Democrats that would have barred the sale of firearms to all individuals on the terror watch list failed to advance in a 47-53 vote. The Republican amendment, which would have enabled the justice department to delay an individual on the FBI terror watch list from completing a gun purchase for a period of 72 hours, was voted down 53-47. The Republican plan, backed by the NRA, would have required the attorney general to prove to a judge that there was probable cause for the firearm sale to be denied.
The FBI has said Orlando gunman Omar Mateen was on a terrorist watchlist from 2013 to 2014.
A growing number of senators signaled they would be open to joining Collins’ efforts to craft a compromise. While the details of her plan were still being finessed, Collins told reporters last week her legislation would focus on a narrower scope of suspected terrorists who were either on the no-fly list or subject to extra screening at airports.
Democrats immediately blasted a host of Senate Republicans facing tough re-election battles for voting along party lines on both the background checks and terror watch list proposals, including: Senators Rob Portman of Ohio, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
Just two of the vulnerable incumbents, Senators Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Mark Kirk of Illinois, voted for the Democratic plan on the terror watch list. Kirk also voted for the Democrats’ universal background checks bill, a sign of how contentious the debate is for the senator whose constituents include the residents of Chicago inflicted by one of the worst gun violence epidemics in the nation.
Addressing reporters after the vote, a group of Democrats decried what they characterized as the NRA’s “vice-like grip” over members of Congress.
“I’m mortified by today’s vote, but I’m not surprised by it,” said Chris Murphy, the senator who became a leading advocate of gun control after the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in his home state of Connecticut.
“I don’t think democracy allows for this Congress to be so out of step with the American public for very long.”
Hillary Clinton reacted to the vote with a one-word statement – “Enough” – before listing the names of the 49 victims killed in Orlando. The presumptive Democratic nominee had backed both Democratic amendments, and has also called for a reinstatement of the assault weapons ban.
As the vote occurred, family members of gun violence victims looked on from the gallery within the Senate chamber – some of them weeping as it became clear not a single bill would pass muster.
The scene echoed the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre, when parents of some of the slain children watched in disbelief as the Senate failed to pass legislation to expand background checks.
Appearing alongside fellow Democrats after the vote, Florida senator Bill Nelson questioned how he would face the victims still reeling from the Orlando shooting.
“What am I going to tell 49 grieving families?” Nelson asked. “What I am going to tell the families of those that are still in the hospital fighting for their lives?”
Nelson’s Florida colleague, Marco Rubio, voted for the Republican amendments while opposing those offered by Democrats. Rubio issued a lengthy statement explaining his vote, in which the former Republican presidential candidate emphasized the need to refocus on the threat posed by homegrown extremism and the broader war on terror after the Orlando attack.
“We can’t say for sure if anything in our laws would have stopped this maniac from carrying out some form of attack, but I know that the proposals I supported today would specifically fill gaps that are evident after this attack and protect people who may one day find themselves needing firearms to protect themselves,” Rubio said.
“The Democrat proposals are politically-motivated and driven by a larger ideological agenda to disarm Americans.”
Other advocates of stricter gun laws also expressed their dismay with the result,
even as they vowed not to give up on the fight.
Gabby Giffords, the former congresswoman who was shot in the 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona, said the Senate “chose to do the unimaginable: nothing at all”.
“Five years ago, I was shot point blank in the head, and the Senate did nothing,” Giffords, who co-founded the anti-gun violence group Americans for Responsible Solutions, said in a fundraising email.
“When 20 young children and six educators lost their lives in Newtown, Connecticut, the Senate did nothing. San Bernardino, Roseburg, Navy Yard, Charleston, Isla Vista — nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing.”
Earlier on Monday Democrats called the Republican proposals “political stunts” aimed to divert attention away from more meaningful legislation.
“My Republican colleagues are again stuck in the same rut, giving in to the demands of the NRA,” Harry Reid, the Democratic minority leader, said in remarks on the Senate floor.
Monday’s votes marked the third time in recent years, he added, “that Senate Republicans have protected the gun lobby, even as their own constituents have been gunned down in cold blood”.
“Senate Republicans should be embarrassed. But they’re not, because the NRA is happy,” Reid said.