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Not Even Orlando Could Get the Senate to Act on Guns

Cornyn Grassley Murphy Feinstein

Today the U.S. Senate voted down four gun control measures.


After the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, Congress still hasn't acted on gun control.

The U.S. Senate today failed to advance four bills -- two sponsored by Democrats, two by Republicans -- aimed at limiting access to firearms. They had been offered in the wake of the June 12 attack at the Pulse LGBT nightclub in Orlando, in which gunman Omar Mateen killed 49 people and wounded 53.

The bills were all offered as amendments to a spending bill for Departments of Justice and Commerce, and each needed 60 yes votes to be included in that legislation. None of them won enough votes, so they will not advance in the Senate or to the House of Representatives.

"Instead of getting help from their elected officials, our constituents see a disturbing pattern of inaction," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid told reporters after the votes were taken. "It's always the same. After each tragedy we try, we Democrats try to pass sensible gun safety measures. Sadly, our efforts are blocked by the Republicans in Congress who take their marching orders from the National Rifle Association."

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut put forth an amendment to expand background checks for gun sales, assuring that those buying guns online an at gun shows would be subject to such checks, which usually happen only during sales by a licensed gun dealer. The other Democratic proposal came from Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, to prevent gun sales to people on the federal government's watch list of suspected terrorists. Feinstein's legislation had the backing of the Justice Department.

On the Republican side, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa proposed to increase funding for the background check system but change some of the language regarding mental health issues that would result in denial of a gun purchase; opponents said this language would actually allow more people to buy guns. And Sen. John Cornyn of Texas offered an alternative to Feinstein's amendment, letting the federal government delay a gun sale to a suspected terrorist for 72 hours but requiring court action to block the sale permanently. The National Rifle Association endorsed Cornyn's bill.

Murphy, who led a filibuster last week in order to get the Republican majority to agree to even a vote on the amendments, condemned Grassley's and Cornyn's bills during debate today, saying they "aren't even half-measures." Murphy also spoke of the mass shooting in his state in 2012, at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which took the lives of 20 children and six adults, along with the Orlando massacre.

Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy spoke of several mass shootings of recently years, saying, "Whether the victims are members of the LBGT community, the African-American church parishioners, first-graders -- first-graders! -- in elementary school of college students or military service members or others in our community, we are called as Americans to come together in solidarity. Let's enact real solutions that might prevent further acts of senseless violence."

Supporters of the various amendments acknowledged that they would not stop all acts of gun violence but emphasized that they would prevent some. Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California noted that the problem of gun violence isn't mass shootings alone; in total, 30,000 Americans a year die by gunfire. She presented studies indicating that strict gun laws result in fewer deaths. Grassley, however, contended there is no correlation.

Cornyn asserted that Feinstein's bill would not have kept Mateen from buying a gun, because he was not on a terrorist watch list at the time. Democrats responded that it would, as it provided for FBI checks on gun purchases by anyone who had ever been on a watch list. Feinstein also pointed out that while her legislation was sometimes called "no fly, no buy," it actually applied to a larger terrorist watch list than just the list of people prevented from boarding airplanes. Some Republicans criticized the watch list as flawed and said using it to deny gun sales would violate constitutional rights. Feinstein said her bill would allow for due process, for people to learn why they were prevented from buying a gun.

None of the measures were really expected to pass, The Washington Post notes, "because the Senate took almost the exact same votes in December after the San Bernardino, Calif., attacks. Those votes largely fell -- and failed -- along party lines, with Republicans supporting looser versions of gun control proposals and Democrats supporting stricter versions."

Today's failure nevertheless outraged gun control proponents. "We are deeply disappointed in each and every Senator who failed to stand up today for commonsense gun violence prevention legislation," said a statement from Human Rights Campaign government affairs director David Stacy. "For decades, LGBTQ people have been a target for bias-motivated violence, and easy access to deadly weapons has compounded this threat. The volatile combination of animosity towards the LGBTQ community and easy access to deadly weapons exacerbates the climate of fear and the dangers faced by LGBTQ people. Reasonable gun violence prevention measures are part of the solution to bias-motivated violence, and it's critical that Congress pass commonsense legislation."

The gun control group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America likewise condemned the Senate's inaction and warned that it will cost politicians at the ballot box. Said founder Shannon Watts: "We are making gun safety a litmus test for political leaders, and we will only support candidates willing to stand up to the dangerous agenda of an extremist gun lobby: guns for anyone, anywhere, anytime - no questions asked. Even for terrorists. This is a marathon -- not a sprint -- but rest assured that we are winning."

A similar warning came from John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety: "Tonight, far too many senators once again fell for the NRA's games instead of standing up for public safety and national security. Congress has an obligation to get its work done and help protect Americans from gun violence -- rather than try to protect gun lobby politicians in an election year. This week, we saw gun sense champions change the political calculus and force a vote in the Senate. That calculus is changing across the country as well -- and together, the American people will be voting on this issue in November."

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