Political News

A divided Senate answers Orlando with gridlock on gun curbs

Posted June 20, 2016

— A divided Senate blocked rival election-year plans to curb guns Monday, eight days after the horror of Orlando's mass shooting intensified pressure on lawmakers to act but knotted them in gridlock anyway — even over restricting firearms for terrorists.

In largely party-line votes, senators rejected one proposal from each side to keep extremists from acquiring guns and a second shoring up the government's system of required background checks for many firearms purchases.

North Carolina Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tills both voted yes on a Republican bill that would increase funds for the federal background check system and for a Republican bill that would delay gun sales for 72 hours for buyers on the no-fly list. Burr and Tills voted against the two Democratic bills that would require background checks at gun shows and block gun sales to suspected terrorists on the no-fly list.

With the chamber's visitors' galleries unusually crowded for a Monday evening — including relatives of victims of past mass shootings and people wearing orange T-shirts saying #ENOUGH gun violence — each measure fell short of the 60 votes needed to progress. Democrats called the GOP proposals unacceptably weak while Republicans said the Democratic plans were too restrictive.

The stalemate underscored the pressure on each party to stand firm on the emotional gun issue going into November's presidential and congressional elections. It also highlighted the potency of the National Rifle Association, which urged its huge and fiercely loyal membership to lobby senators to oppose the Democratic bills.

"Republicans say, 'Hey look, we tried,'" said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "And all the time, their cheerleaders, the bosses at the NRA, are cheering them."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the Orlando shootings — in which the FBI says the American-born gunman swore allegiance to a Islamic State group leader — show the best way to prevent extremists' attacks here is to defeat them overseas.

"No one wants terrorists to be able to buy guns," McConnell said. He suggested that Democrats used the day's votes "to push a partisan agenda or craft the next 30-second campaign ad."

That Monday's four roll-call votes occurred at all was testament to the political currents buffeting lawmakers after gunman Omar Mateen's June 12 attack on a gay nightclub. The 49 victims who died made it the largest mass shooting in recent U.S. history, topping a string of such incidents that have punctuated recent years.

The FBI said Mateen — a focus of two terror investigations that were dropped — described himself as an Islamic soldier in a 911 call during the shootings. That let gun control advocates add national security and the specter of terrorism to their arguments for firearms curbs.

After the votes, presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton issued a one-word statement, "Enough," followed by the names and ages of Orlando's victims.

On Fox News Channel's "The O'Reilly Factor," expected GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump said he "absolutely" agrees that people on the government's terror watch list should be barred from owning guns. He did not say if he supported the Republican or Democratic versions of bills rejected Monday.

Only a handful of lawmakers changed positions from votes cast last December on similar proposals, highlighting each party's enduring stances on guns. And there's little sign that the House's GOP leaders will allow votes.

Even so, GOP senators facing re-election this fall in swing states were under extraordinary pressure.

One vulnerable Republican, New Hampshire's Sen. Kelly Ayotte, backed both bills blocking gun sales to terrorists, a switch from when she joined most Republicans in killing a similar Democratic plan last December. She expressed support for a narrower bipartisan plan, like one being crafted by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Collins was trying to fashion a bipartisan bill preventing people on the government's no-fly list from getting guns. She expressed optimism the Senate would vote on her plan, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said that according to McConnell, if Collins wants a vote on her proposal, "She'll get one."

Monday's votes came after Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., led a near 15-hour filibuster last week demanding a Senate response to the Orlando killings. Murphy entered the Senate shortly after the December 2012 massacre of 20 first-graders and six educators in Newtown, Connecticut, but that slaughter and others have failed to spur Congress to tighten gun curbs. The last were enacted in 2007, when the background check system was strengthened after that year's mass shooting at Virginia Tech.

With Mateen's professed loyalty to extremist groups and his 10-month inclusion on a federal terrorism watch list, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., proposed letting the government block many gun sales to known or suspected terrorists. People buying firearms from federally licensed gun dealers can currently be denied for several reasons, chiefly for serious crimes or mental problems, but there is no specific prohibition for those on the terrorist watch list.

That list currently contains around 1 million people — including fewer than 5,000 Americans or legal permanent residents, according to the latest government figures. The narrower no-fly list has just 81,000 names.

No background checks are required for anyone buying guns privately online or at gun shows.

The GOP response to Feinstein was an NRA-backed plan by Cornyns. It would let the government deny a sale to a known or suspected terrorist — but only if prosecutors could convince a judge within three days that the would-be buyer was involved in terrorism.

The Feinstein and Cornyn amendments would require notification of law enforcement officials if people, like Mateen, who'd been under a terrorism investigation within the past five years were seeking to buy firearms.

Republicans said Feinstein's proposal gave the government too much power to deny people's constitutional right to own a gun and noted that the terrorist watch list has mistakenly included some people. Democrats said the three-day window Cornyn's measure gave prosecutors to prove their case made his plan ineffective.

Murphy's rejected proposal would widely expand the requirement for background checks, even to many private gun transactions, leaving few loopholes.

The defeated plan by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, increased money for the background check system. It also revamped language prohibiting some people with mental health issues from buying a gun, which Democrats claimed would reduce current protections.

Monday's votes were 53-47 for Grassley's plan, 44-56 for Murphy's, 53-47 for Cornyn's and 47-53 for Feinstein's — all short of the 60 needed.


Associated Press writers Matthew Daly and Richard Lardner contributed to this report.


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  • Tal Lugen Jun 21, 2016
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    I think you'll find it difficult to convince Jim of that. As mentioned earlier, it does seem as if the anti-gun extremists want nothing more than to take his guns.

    You're correct, they're just trying to make it more difficult to buy something. Couldn't that be the first step toward confiscation?

  • Howard Roark Jun 21, 2016
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    Jim, with all due respect; 1. Even if the gov't ignored the full riot of it's citizens and likely bloodshed to "enact tyranny," the taking of your small arms would not likely make a difference. They're not trying to disarm you Jim. They're just trying to make it more difficult to buy certain things.

    2. The democrats are not changing the narrative only after a terrorist shooting. They strike this narrative after every mass shooting.

  • Jonathan Adams Jun 21, 2016
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    We don't have a gun problem. We have a people problem.

  • Jim Williams Jun 21, 2016
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    Democrats want to erode the gun laws so they can enact full tyranny against the citizens. At a time when we should be discussing the terrorist threat at home, they want to change the narrative to gun control. Do not even tell me a democrat is worried about the safety of citizens.

  • Tal Lugen Jun 21, 2016
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    There's a huge disconnect over where the actual disagreement between the two groups is. Of course pro-gun people agree that bad guys shouldn't have their ill intentions made easier. However, the disagreement is how that issue is tackled.

    Some people are suggesting that they're okay with gridlock. I am too. In fact, that's why I pour as much money into the NRA as I can. I believe (though I'll concede I don't have proof because statistics are being twisted on both sides) that the media makes the "gun problem" seem a lot worse than it is. We have to accept that bad people will do bad things, and that we can't achieve the utopia that some extreme left/extreme anti-gun people want, no matter how great it would be. The numbers I do see are, to be insensitively blunt, acceptable.

  • Tal Lugen Jun 21, 2016
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    If 80-90% of people really wanted gun control, then law makers would not be afraid of the NRA influencing people to vote them out. There can't be two opposing majorities. The statistic is a lie.

  • Howard Roark Jun 21, 2016
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    It's going to be a slippery slope to address the issue as a whole. I agree, we need to look long and hard at how mental health is treated in this country. Too many times someone has been on the radar for something they said or did. They have a right to due process, but if the FBI (or whomever) has no further reason to bring charges or keep them on the list, they go on their merry way. How should this be addressed with violating the rights of an individual? Where would the lines be drawn? Mental health and watch lists can do a lot in theory, but may fail in crucial situations.

    I hear the gun-rights advocates arguments and I agree with their concern. What they gov't takes away, it will likely never give back. The left is trying to limit access to a tool. Just like they did 30 years ago under President Reagan and a Republican controlled senate. It may only be a tool, but happens to be an effective one that may be more and more difficult to make a claim for necessity in self defense.

  • Allen Jones Jun 21, 2016
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    WRAL is quoting firearm statistics from MOTHER JONES........OK, I have wasted enough time reading this garbage.

  • Norman Lewis Jun 21, 2016
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    AR-15's are semi-automatic like 30-06's, 22's etc. The only guns sold without a background check at a gun show are the very few private sales. Dealers are required to conduct the same checks on a purchase as at their stores. Liberals continue the lie and imply a large number of guns are passed at shows without checks based on a nearly 20 year old, extremely limited study of 250 owners. None of the proposals would have stopped the Orlando shooting nor prevent the next similar incident. The point Liberals and misguided gun "control" groups miss is that criminals and terrorists DO NOT follow the laws we currently have and will not follow any new ones when planning the next attack. "Expanded background checks?" what more can you do than a FBI check, local law enforcement check, fingerprinting and mental health records release of info form? Expanded checks is code for registration which is just before confiscation and then only criminals will have guns and the public will be defenseless.

  • Charles Phillips Jun 21, 2016
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    stop repeating the lies. there is no 90% that want more gun control