WASHINGTON – The Senate had the opportunity to act on competing gun-control measures Monday, but proceeded instead to block action on any of the proposals in votes that fell mostly along party lines.
The votes came just eight days after the shooting at an Orlando nightclub left 49 club-goers dead and 53 injured at the hands of a gunman who claimed allegiance to ISIS. The shooter was later killed by police.
A Senate filibuster late last week opened the door to Monday’s vote on four competing gun measures – two by Democrats and two by Republicans – that were proposed as amendments to the Commerce budget bill.
But in procedural votes Monday evening that would have allowed the amendments to come up for a vote, each party blocked a vote on the other’s measures. Arizona Republican Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain followed suit, voting with most of their fellow Republicans against the Democratic measures and for the GOP-backed amendments.
In a statement released by his office, McCain said that he voted for the Republican measures because they would have kept guns out of the hands of terrorists “in a way that is both effective and constitutional.” He blamed the Democrats for obstructionism.
“I’m disappointed that instead of working with Republicans to address these issues in a way that respects Americans’ constitutional rights, Senate Democrats have opted for political grandstanding,” McCain’s statement said.
But Democrats said the Republican proposals would have done little to curb violence – and in some cases may have made it easier for dangerous people to get guns – and they accused Republicans of being “in the grip” of the National Rifle Association.
“I’m disappointed by the results tonight, but far from surprised,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, who led last week’s 15-hour filibuster. “We knew breaking the NRA’s stranglehold on this Congress would be a long, uphill climb.”
Those comments were echoed by advocates on both sides, who claimed the opposition refused to accept their “common sense” proposals.
The NRA accused Democrats being “more interested in playing politics than addressing their to keep Americans safe.” Meanwhile, former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly, founders of Americans for Responsible Solutions, said senators “ignored the will of the people and stood with the gun lobby.”
Kelly, Giffords and other groups had come out in favor of proposals by Murphy and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California.
Feinstein’s measure would have given the attorney general the authority to immediately prohibit gun sales to anyone on the government’s no-fly list and other terrorism watch lists. Murphy’s proposal would have required background checks on gun buyers in all gun sales, closing a current loophole that does not require such checks online, between individuals and at gun shows.
Republicans said those proposals were too broad and would have violated constitutional protections, countering with their own proposals by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.
Cornyn’s proposal would have halted gun sales for 72 hours to anyone who had been on a terrorism watch list in the preceding five years, giving authorities three days to investigate – and possibly arrest – the individual. It would guarantee an appeal process for those who thought they were wrongly denied a gun. His measure did not get the required 60 votes, falling short on a 53-47 vote.
Grassley’s measure, offered to counter Murphy’s, would have beefed up the National Instant Criminal Background Check System used in gun sales, but would not have expanded it to gun show sales. It failed to advance, also on a 53-47 vote.
In remarks after the vote, the mood of dejected Democrats was summed up by Feinstein, who said “here we go again” of the continuing Senate stalemate.