Senate Votes on Gun Control MeasuresJune 20, 201601:55
A week after the worst mass shooting in the nation’s history and a nearly 15-hour filibuster waged on the Senate floor by Democrats demanding action, the Senate is set to vote Monday evening on four gun control proposals.
It is unlikely any of the proposals will hit the 60-vote procedural threshold to move forward. However, the votes are forcing senators to once again take a stand in the wake of a mass shooting and debate the controversial issue in a high profile way.
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Here’s what you need to know:
Dueling Background Check Amendments
There are two competing amendments dealing with improving background checks for gun sales — a Democratic proposal from Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut and a Republican proposal from Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa.
The Grassley amendment seeks to improve the National Criminal Instant Background Check System (NICS) by providing more money and resources to the program. It also gives incentives to share mental health records.
The measure calls for commissioning a study on the causes of mass shootings by the Director of the National Institutes of Justice and National Academy of Sciences.
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The Murphy amendment expands the background check system, mandating that sales at gun shows and over the Internet are subjected to them closing the so called “gun show loophole.” The amendment would also require federal agencies to certify that they have submitted to NICS all records identifying individuals prohibited from buying a gun and would impose penalties on states that do not make data electronically available to the background check system.
Will There Be Movement on Background Checks
It is unlikely anything moves as both sides are pretty far apart on this issue.
When Democrats controlled the Senate following the Newtown, Connecticut shooting in 2012, a bipartisan bill put forward the following year by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia and Rep. Pat Toomey R-Pennsylvania was voted down as families of the victims watched in the Senate Gallery.
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Another version of this bill was also voted down in late December of 2015 after the San Bernardino terrorist attack.
One of the reasons for the divide is the National Rifle Association, which has actively opposed closing the gun show loophole, saying that it would put undue burden on unlicensed gun sellers at gun shows. Those formally licensed must perform background checks. However, private sellers can be unlicensed and sell a gun without a background check.
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Republicans and the NRA say closing this loophole would hurt these sellers and those who just want to sell a single gun.
Another potentially larger issue, according to many experts, is related to guns sales over the Internet. The NRA claims cracking down on those types of sales is a violation of the First and Second Amendments. The gun lobby group says most Internet sales are done by licensed dealers and by banning such sales these dealers would not be able to advertise — a violation of the First amendment free speech rights — and buyers couldn’t shop around for the best deal on arms — a violation of the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
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Republicans listen to the NRA’s argument as the organization generously donates to campaigns each year and thus this issue has gone nowhere.
While Grassley’s bill would steer more money towards the federal background check system and include provisions dealing with mental health, Democrats say that is not enough.
Two Terrorist Watch List Amendments
There are also two amendments aimed at keeping guns away from suspected terrorists pitted against each other — a Democratic proposal from Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-California, and a Republican proposal from Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas.
The Cornyn amendment allows the Attorney General to delay a purchase of a gun for up to 72-hours for a suspected terrorist or an individual investigated for terrorism in the last five years and also seek a court order to prevent the sale. Republican aides believe the amendment keeps in place more protections for gun owners.
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The Feinstein amendment prevents any individual on a terrorist watch list from buying a gun. The Attorney General would have the ability to block an individual from buying a weapon if there was “reasonable belief” the individual could use the weapon for terrorism — even if the person is not on the watch list. Following suggestions by the Justice Department, the amendment allows gun sales to go through when blocking a sale could compromise a major terrorism investigation.
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Vulnerable GOP Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois — the only Republican senator to vote in support of barring those on the terror watch list from buying guns in December 2015 — has also signed on as a co-sponsor to Feinstein’s amendment.
Will There Be Movement on Stopping a Suspected Terrorist From Buying a Gun?
This is where some agreement could occur.
There is bipartisan agreement that the current system is flawed. While Democrats want to see any individual on the terrorist watch list prohibited from buying a gun, Republicans say that though the spirit of the Democrats’ bill is correct, they believe there are many individuals mistakenly put on the list who are not actually terrorists.
The GOP says there needs to be some due process so that those who are flagged by mistake can appeal. Cornyn’s proposal allows for a three-day federal review period where the Justice Department can stop a sale if it proves its case to a judge. This is similar to a FISA court, a quick meeting by judicial review often used for intelligence purposes. Democrats say that the burden of proof is too difficult for the government and terrorists could wait out the three-day period.
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Is There Room for a Potential Compromise?
There may be room for agreement in extending the review period for those once on the watch list who were removed from the list. The Cornyn amendment now includes a provision for an individual who has been investigated for terrorism in the last five years. That provision would have flagged the Orlando killer. Toomey had an idea for extending the review period to 50 days.
Several senators —including Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, — are working behind the scenes to forge a compromise with colleagues across the aisle. Work by the Republican senator on a bipartisan compromise proposal continues with a proposal potentially unveiled as early as Monday. Aides are working to strike a balance between the Feinsten and Cornyn language.
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Of all the ideas floating around about how to address gun control, this area is where Congress could come together if they really wanted to and several senators are working behind the scenes to forge a compromise with colleagues across the aisle.
Other Outstanding Political Issues
Democrats may not want to compromise because they see their stance as principled and politically a winner. They would rather paint the GOP as being completely in the tank for the gun lobby in November so they don’t want to give away that leverage ahead of the election.
This is increased by the uncertainty of what the House would do. The NRA has extreme power in the Republican-led House and many members will never cross the association.
If the NRA objected to some sort of compromise that barely passed the Senate, this legislation could die in the House and the Democrats will have given away their leverage for nothing.
The first procedural votes in the Senate on these four amendments is slated for 5:30pm on Monday.