Senate Rejects 4 Gun Proposals Inspired By Orlando Attack | KERA News

Senate Rejects 4 Gun Proposals Inspired By Orlando Attack

Jun 20, 2016
Originally published on June 20, 2016 7:25 pm

Updated at 7:40 p.m. ET with Senate votes

To virtually no one's surprise, the Senate failed to advance any of the four gun control proposals — two offered by Democrats, and two by Republicans — that came in response to last week's mass shooting in Orlando, Fla.

Here are the results:

A proposal sponsored by Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, failed on a vote of 53-47, seven votes short of the 60 needed. It would have increased funding for background checks and changed the language barring people with mental health issues from buying a gun.

A measure proposed by Chris Murphy, D-Conn., expanding background checks to the sales of firearms at gun shows and on the Internet failed 44-56, 16 votes short of the 60 needed.

A bill by Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to let the Justice Department bar gun sales to anyone who was on the terrorist watch list in the past five years failed on a vote of 47-53, 13 votes short of the 60 needed.

A bill offered by John Cornyn, R-Texas, failed on a vote of 53-47, seven votes short of the 60 needed. It would have allowed the government to block a gun sale for up to three days pending a court review. The government also would have to show probable cause that the prospective gun buyer was involved in terrorist activities.

Here's our earlier post:

Just over a week after the deadly nightclub rampage in Orlando, the Senate will take up four amendments Monday related to guns and terrorism — two from Democrats and two from Republicans.

Such a quick vote after a tragedy is not remarkable. Proposals were put forth — and rejected — right after the murders of children and teachers in Sandy Hook Elementary School 2 1/2 years ago. Bills very similar to those coming up for a vote now were actually taken up just one day after the mass killing in San Bernardino in December. They too failed. So there's little reason for optimism on the part of advocates of tougher gun laws this time around, when defeat is once again the most likely outcome for these latest proposals.

Still, for gun control advocates, it's important to force votes and to get members of Congress on the record.

A big reason there is a vote is a marathon 15-hour speech by Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and other Democrats last Wednesday. After that, the GOP leadership agreed to hold the votes.

Here are the measures up for consideration.

The Democratic proposals:

  • Brought by Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., it would give the Justice Department the power to stop anyone from purchasing a gun if that person has been on the federal terrorist watch lists sometime in the past five years. This measure would also make it easier for the government to halt a gun purchase, based on "reasonable belief" as opposed to "probable cause" that the individual will use the firearm to commit terrorism. The White House backs this measure.
  • An amendment by Chris Murphy, D-Conn., would close the "gun show loophole" by requiring every gun purchaser to undergo a background check and to expand the background check database. It would also extend background checks to Internet sales.

The GOP proposals:

  • This one from John Cornyn, R-Texas, would require that law enforcement be alerted when anyone on the terrorist watch list attempts to buy a weapon from a licensed dealer. If the buyer has been investigated for terrorism within the past five years, the attorney general could block a sale for up to three days while a court reviews the sale. The government would have to show probable cause that the person is a known or suspected terrorist.
  • An amendment by Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, would clarify what it means to be found mentally deficient and give people suspected of serious mental illness a process to challenge that determination.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, one of the few GOP moderates in the Senate, told NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday that she wants to find a compromise that would lead to a different outcome this time. "What troubles me about the votes that we're going to have tomorrow is that they are repeats of the votes that we had after the San Bernardino shootings. And the result is going to be the same; neither is going to pass. I want to get something done, so I've been working with a group of Republicans and talking to many Democrats to put together a new proposal. "

Collins says her proposal would create a simple standard that she thinks could pass.

"It says that if you are too dangerous to board an airplane or if you are so dangerous that you're selected all the time for extra screening before you can board an airplane, you're too dangerous to buy a gun." She went on to explain: "It takes the federal government's no-fly list and what is called the selectee list, which requires extra screening, and says that those are the individuals against whom we have credible evidence and reason to be concerned, and we're not going to allow them to purchase firearms."

The National Rifle Association takes a dim view of all of this, not surprisingly. Its executive director, Wayne LaPierre, told CBS's Face the Nation on Sunday that the problem in Orlando and San Bernardino was terrorism, not guns. He said these measures are like "trying to stop a freight train with a piece of Kleenex."

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The Senate voted tonight on four different gun proposals, and they have all failed. This comes after Senate Democrats held the floor for 15 hours last week, pressuring Republicans to schedule votes on stronger gun control measures. Lawmakers on both sides acknowledge there is little chance these votes will change anything. Earlier today, I talked to NPR's congressional correspondent, Ailsa Chang, about the vote.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: The two that have gotten the most attention are competing proposals on how to deal with the terror watch list. Both Democrats and Republicans agree that terrorists shouldn't be able to buy guns. That's simple enough. But where they disagree is what to do when the government isn't sure if someone is a terrorist. The Democrats have been proposing that the Justice Department have the power to stop anyone who's been on the terror watch list within the last five years from buying a gun.

Meanwhile, Republicans have been pushing a measure that would let the government permanently stop someone on the terror watch list from buying a gun only if the government can convince a judge that there's probable cause the person is a terrorist.

MCEVERS: That sounds like a difficult thing to do. I mean, is that why Democrats are against that particular measure?

CHANG: Pretty much. I mean, their argument - the Democrats' argument has been if the government really had that much evidence, enough for probable cause, which is a really high evidentiary standard, then that person would've been arrested already for being a known or a suspected terrorist. And Republicans have said that's exactly the point. If you don't have very strong evidence that someone will commit terrorism, you shouldn't be limiting that person's Second Amendment rights. But Democrats say that's a very disingenuous argument. Here's how Chris Murphy of Connecticut put it.


CHRIS MURPHY: I haven't heard these due process concerns when it comes to the right of Americans to travel. So we didn't hear any of these concerns about due process when the no-fly list was working effectively for years and years.

MCEVERS: All right, so the two other gun proposals - they are about background checks, right?

CHANG: Right.

MCEVERS: And we've see legislation like this before, haven't we?

CHANG: We have. Democrats proposed nearly the same exact measure in 2013 after the shootings in Newtown, and it failed then. It would require background checks by private sellers even at gun shows and over the Internet. The Republican proposal tonight focuses on people who are flagged as mentally ill during a background check. The measure would allow those people more ways to challenge that determination.

MCEVERS: All right, so for some time now, it has been widely assumed that all four of these measures would fail. Why is that?

CHANG: Well, Republicans I've talked to have said that it's just too soon after Orlando. That's why. On one hand, there was this great urgency to act right after the shootings in Orlando. But they say there hasn't been enough time for lawmakers to change their minds. Remember, these terror watch list proposals actually already failed in the Senate last December after the San Bernardino shootings.

And Bob Corker of Tennessee, a Republican, told me last week that if you wanted to convince senators to vote differently this time around, you would need more hearings. You would need more conversations. He says most of his colleagues still don't get what these terror watch lists are.


BOB CORKER: We're going to vote with almost no one understanding how these lists are put together or how they're adjudicated, how you get off of them. And it's just - it's a shame.

CHANG: So Corker says right now, he resents being put in a position where he has to vote on something that doesn't get any closer to a solution. He says tonight is all about political theater.

MCEVERS: That's NPR congressional correspondent Ailsa Chang on four gun measures that have failed in the Senate. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.