In the aftermath of the mass shooting in Orlando, Fla., senators from both sides of the aisle agree on one thing: Suspected terrorists shouldn’t be able to get guns. They just can’t agree on how to make that happen.
Even Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the top recipient of donations from the National Rifle Association in Congress, is opposed to individuals on the terrorist watch list being able to purchase firearms.
“He supports legislation that blocks the transfer of a firearm to all terrorists and requires the government to conduct an investigation of suspected terrorists who attempt to purchase firearms,” Blunt spokesman Brian Hart said in an email.
$60,550 Amount of donations from NRA to Sen. Roy Blunt since 1998
Blunt’s Democratic counterpart, Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, also wants to prohibit people from buying guns if their names appear on law enforcement’s terror screening list. She says it's common sense.
On Monday, Blunt, McCaskill and their colleagues in the U.S. Senate will have the chance to vote on two amendments – one sponsored by a Republican and one by a Democrat – both of which would block people on the terrorist watch list from purchasing firearms.
And yet neither measure seems likely to get enough votes to pass. Efforts to reach a compromise to reconcile the two versions have so far come to nothing.
So at the end of the day, if everyone votes along party lines, Democratic and Republican senators will have the political cover to say they voted to keep weapons from terrorists, but terrorists will still be able to buy them.
And this wouldn’t even be the first time that that very scenario has come to pass.
In December, following the mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., that killed 14 people, Kansas Republicans Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts, along with Blunt, supported an amendment sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, which would have created a 72-hour waiting period to allow the Department of Justice to investigate anyone on the watch list who tried to buy a gun. If the government could show probable cause, the sale would be halted and the person could be detained.
It received 55 votes but needed 60.
McCaskill supported an alternative amendment offered at the same time by California’s Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein that would ban anyone on the watch list from buying a firearm but would allow an appeals process if a purchase was denied. It received 45 votes.
Now both amendments are scheduled again for votes on Monday. Negotiations to reconcile the two versions broke down this week between Feinstein and Cornyn. Once again, neither measure seems likely to pass.
McCaskill said the Feinstein amendment is one of the reasonable steps Congress could take to allow for the protection of the second amendment and prevent tragedies in the future.
As a former prosecutor, I’ve seen the effects of gun violence firsthand, and know there are common-sense, simple safety measures that the majority of Missourians support.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
Cornyn’s amendment, McCaskill said, “is full of loopholes, was written by the NRA, and therefore isn’t effective policy when it comes to closing the terror gap.”
Republicans, on the other hand, argue that Feinstein’s amendment robs Americans of their Second Amendment rights without due process.
Feinstein says she’s open to further talks but she and Cornyn still appear to be far apart. Meanwhile, the Democrats have seized on the watch list issue as a talking point to cudgel Republicans.
The stalemate over denying guns to suspected terrorists, a step that members of both parties agree to in theory, underscores just how far the Senate still is from any significant gun law overhaul, despite the public outcry over mass shootings. An assault weapons ban, for example, remains off the table.
So why go through the motions of voting for rival terror list amendments, neither of which appears likely to pass?
“I think they want to get as much out there as possible and give people as many options as they can, but the answer is if they can’t reach a concession they’re just hoping that if they toss it onto the floor something’s going to happen and I think that’s pretty unlikely,” said Ross Baker, political science professor at Rutgers.
Even if something did pass the Senate, it would have no chance in the U.S. House of Representatives, Baker said.
“Clearly people want to do something,” he said. “The atmosphere is better than it has been to talk about this in a long time, but unfortunately for people who want action, the mood is going to lapse.”
Moran, who, like Blunt, is running for re-election in November, declined to say how he would vote on Monday.
Moran said he is working with colleagues to keep guns out of terrorists’ hands, “but the fact remains that taking away the ability of a person on the no-fly list to purchase guns unfortunately would not have prevented this weekend’s tragedy.”
“Surely we can all agree that terrorists should not have access to firearms,” he said.
Roberts also said he believes an individual on a terrorist watch list should not be permitted to buy any kind of weapon.
“However, there should also be a form of redress for law-abiding citizens who are mistakenly on the list and then prevented from buying a firearm,” Roberts said in a statement.
Roberts cited his previous support for the Cornyn amendment, which he said would “take extra measures to protect the American people by requiring a thorough investigation and heightened surveillance of citizens on the watch list attempting to obtain a gun.”
He said he would continue to review reasonable proposals to “to protect the American people without infringing upon our Constitutional rights.”
Roberts and Moran each have received about $23,000 in donations from the NRA since 1998, according to a Washington Post analysis. Blunt of Missouri’s total was $60,550.
Sean Cockerham contributed to this article.