U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, (I-VT), chamber Democrats and a sprinkling of Republicans went all-in for gun control in the Senate Thursday but in the end came up short. (Photo: sanders.senate.gov)
Two anti-gun measures, which would have turned the “no-fly-list” into a no-gun-buy list and expanded background checks to private sales, were defeated Thursday in close votes.
A proposal by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, to close the so-called “terrorist loophole” and allow the Department of Justice to deny gun sales to those on the government’s terror watch list was stopped in a 45-54 party line vote while a rehash of the Manchin-Toomey bipartisan universal background check failed 47-50 receiving even less votes than it got two years ago despite a number of key Republican defections this time around.
The quartet of Republican presidential candidates in the Senate – Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio – all made the vote and went with the GOP majority on both measures. This came while three others – Susan Collins, Mark Kirk and John McCain – jumped ship to side with fellow Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania to support expanded background checks while embattled Sen. Ron Johnson, currently in the middle of a reelection campaign in Wisconsin, abstained.
This sudden end-run for gun control proposals came amid political fallout on Capitol Hill less than 24 hours after the San Bernardino mass killings in California that claimed the lives of 14 and were all entered as amendments to a House bill, H.R. 3762, to reform Obamacare. Due to expedited legislative procedures on the bill, it only needed 51 votes to pass the Senate, taking all of its approved amendments with it.
Although New York Democrat Sen. Charles Schumer, in the forefront of gun control debate on the Hill, earlier this week told media there was no indication the attack in California was an act of terrorism, backers of the no-fly list legislation condemned the outcome of Thursday’s vote, which they argued was needed to stop terrorists from committing mass killings in the country.
“If you need proof that Congress is a hostage to the gun lobby, look no further than today’s vote blocking a bill to prevent known or suspected terrorists from buying guns and explosives,” Feinstein said in a statement, arguing that a GAO report found that individuals on the consolidated terrorist watch list cleared a background check in 91 percent of attempted transactions recorded between 2004 and 2014.
“Congress has been paralyzed by the gun lobby for years, while more and more Americans are killed in mass shootings. The carnage won’t stop until Congress finds the courage to stand up to the gun lobby and protect the nation,” Feinstein said.
Another presidential candidate from the other side of the aisle, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, stumped for both gun control expansions while calling for other prohibitions and regulations as well.
“We need to renew the assault weapons ban,” Sanders said. “We need to end the sale of high capacity magazines. We need to make gun trafficking a federal crime and give law enforcement the tools they need to get illegal guns off of the streets. We need to close the gun show loophole as well as loopholes that allow gun purchasers to buy a gun after the waiting period expires without a completed background check.”
Republicans also saw a trio of their proposed gun measures tank in partisan votes including an amendment by Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky to overturn Washington D.C.’s guns laws, one by Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa to increase mental health reporting in conjunction with relaxing gun sales to members of the military and a third by Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn to allow the DOJ to put an additional three-day hold on the background checks of terror watch list gun buyers while expanding due process protections to list.
The Republican amendment to allow the extra hold time in the case of potential terrorists was greeted by gun violence champions as too mild.
“Senator Cornyn’s proposal puts an incredible burden on the government by requiring it to prove within 72 hours that someone already on a FBI terror watch list will commit an act of terror,” said Everytown President John Fienblatt in a statement emailed to Guns.com. “Why would we want to make it easier for terrorists to buy a gun than to board a plane?”
Gun control groups were otherwise staggered at the defeat of the Democrat-led measures.
“Shame on you,” wrote Gabby Giffords’ Americans for Responsible Solutions in a statement. “Faced with the opportunity to close some of the loopholes that make it too easy for dangerous people to get their hands on guns, some United States Senators ignored the will of the American people and stood with the gun lobby.”
Gun rights and firearms industry trade groups, who themselves rallied opposition to the proposals, lauded Thursday’s votes as a solid win.
“It is disappointing but not surprising that anti-gun Senators would try to exploit an apparent incident of radical Islamic terrorism to advance their political agenda,” Larry Keane, senior vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation told Guns.com on Friday. “It is worth noting that the Manchin-Toomey Amendment receive seven fewer votes yesterday than what it was rejected by the Senate in 2013. From a public safety perspective we are also thankful the Senate rejected Senator Feinstein’s amendment which would amount to a terrorist notification system.”