Short-cutting the normal legislative process, the upper chamber of Congress will vote on four recently added amendments to a Justice Department spending bill focusing on increased gun restrictions.
The measures, two backed by Democrats and two by Republicans, aim to expand background checks, strengthen the background check system and make it harder for those associated with terror watch lists to legally purchase firearms.
The amendments will be attached to the “must-pass” 2017 Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill rather than processed as standalone legislation advanced through committee and came as part of a GOP bargain to end a Democrat filibuster on gun control last week.
The amendments include a proposal from Sen. Dianne Feinstein and 26 other Democrats to close the so-called “terrorist loophole” and give the Attorney General the authority to block the sale of guns or explosives to known or suspected terrorists if there is a reasonable belief the weapons could be used in connection with terrorism.
On Sunday, Feinstein argued on CBS’s Face the Nation that her legislation would have stopped the Orlando terrorist from obtaining his firearms although he was not on a watch list when he made his legal purchases, saying, “There is a part of our bill that would cover him as well.”
A second Democrat-backed amendment, offered by Murphy, would expand background checks to private gun sales which he stumped for as part of his talk-a-thon last week. Comments made during Murphy’s filibuster earned three Pinocchios from Washington Post fact checkers for significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions.
Leading the primary Republican counter proposal to add barriers to potential terrorists obtaining guns comes from Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, whose amendment would allow the attorney general to delay the transfer of a weapon to anyone who has been on a terror watch list in the past five years for up to three business days while federal, state and local law enforcement agencies would be notified and conduct an investigation. Further, it would allow a U.S. Attorney to petition the courts to block transfer if probable cause is found, a process that could be appealed by the individual.
“It would not only stop terrorists from getting guns, but it would take them off the streets, and it would do so in a way that’s consistent with our Constitution,” Cornyn told the Senate.
The National Rifle Association’s Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, speaking Sunday on CBS, said the delay outlined in the Cornyn measure, “gives law enforcement the opportunity to go before a judge and prove their case.”
The fourth and final amendment, offered by Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, would add funds to the National Instant Background Check System (NICS) to help speed up processing and ensure more active records are added.
A measure not on the table is one to ban certain classes of firearms as defined by cosmetic features.
The prospect of a return to a federal assault weapons ban, which has long been proposed in the House, got a push from Vice President Joe Biden on Friday when he responded to a petition urging a prohibition on AR-15 ownership by saying, “The president and I agree with you. Assault weapons and high-capacity magazines should be banned from civilian ownership.”
Top Democrats stoking the engine for increased gun control in the Senate admit the current proposals will all likely fail to succeed.
“The likelihood is that these measures, as proposed so far, will fail to get the 60 votes – it’s a 60-vote threshold for each – that’s required for passage,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, the senior senator from Connecticut who often joins with Murphy on gun issues, told NPR last week. “But that doesn’t mean that the effort will fail. The conversations about bipartisan compromise will continue as they have off and on since Sandy Hook in Connecticut, the massacre that killed 20 beautiful children, six great educators.”
Maine Republican Susan Collins told reporters she is working on still more legislation that she paints as a compromise measure to pass something through to the House, avoiding the flop on gun control that occurred last December, when Democrats forced a vote on the subject following the attack in San Bernardino, California.
“That’s what I am trying to avoid,” said Collins. “I don’t want Groundhog Day here. I don’t want us to go through the same thing we went through last year with no result.”
Collins measure, while not public yet, is already being entertained by some very conservative GOP lawmakers including Alabama’s Jeff Sessions.
Others argue none of the amendments would have prevented the terrorist in Orlando from acquiring his weapons or pursuing his target.
“There isn’t a single proposal before the United States Senate that would keep him from doing what he did because he got those guns legally,” Grassley told the Cedar Rapid Gazette. “You can see that the bombers in Boston … what damage they did. It isn’t just a gun issue. This issue deals with radical Islamic terrorism.”