The U.S. Senate voted down measures designed to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists on Monday, just over a week after Omar Mateen, who’d twice been investigated for possible terrorism links, attacked an Orlando nightclub, leaving 49 people dead.
The votes were largely political theater, with the outcomes predetermined on party lines. Similar measures failed in votes after earlier massacres in Newtown, Connecticut, and San Bernardino, California.
The results highlighted the ineffectiveness of the Senate, with senators from both parties declaring that “terrorists should not have guns” while being unable or unwilling to get together and hash out a deal that might seek to accomplish that goal.
Despite the predetermined outcome, all 100 senators voted – an indication of the importance attached to the issue.
The measures needed 60 votes to pass, an especially difficult hurdle given the overheated campaign rhetoric and the emotional topic of gun control.
Talks fizzled last week, with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, blaming a Republican Senate in thrall to the National Rifle Association for the breakdown. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, attributed failure of the discussions to what he characterized as Feinstein’s lack of respect for Constitutional gun rights.
Feinstein’s proposal won just 47 of the needed 60 votes on Monday, with Mark Kirk of Illinois and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire the only Republicans voting in favor.
Feinstein’s proposal called for anyone who has been the target of a federal terrorism in the past five years to be flagged during a gun background check. The government could then stop the sale if the Justice Department decides there is a “reasonable suspicion” the buyer is involved with terrorism. Those who are denied guns would have the chance to appeal.
Republicans declared the proposal an attack on the Constitutional right to bear arms.
“I don’t think any American should sacrifice their Constitutional rights without forcing the government to go to an impartial magistrate or judge and show sufficient evidence,” Cornyn said.
Republicans instead backed Cornyn’s proposal for a 72-hour delay when anyone who has been on a federal terror watch list in the past five years tries to buy a gun.
In order to actually block the purchase, prosecutors would have to go to court within the 72-hour window and convince a judge there is “probable cause” the individual would use the weapon in connection with terrorism.
I don’t think any American should sacrifice their Constitutional rights without forcing the government to go to an impartial magistrate or judge and show sufficient evidence.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas
Feinstein said Cornyn’s proposal is unrealistic because it gives prosecutors just three days to meet the high standard of “probable cause” and stop the gun sale.
“If that standard is met, there is already enough evidence to arrest a person, seize their property and car and indict the person,” Feinstein said. “It is not a proper standard to stop a gun purchase.”
Cornyn’s proposal failed with 53 of the 60 necessary votes. Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Joe Manchin of West Virginia were the only Democrats to vote in favor.
Maybe, just maybe this next election can produce something.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California
Other members of the Senate are working on what they characterize as compromise gun legislation and the debate will continue. Monday’s defeat of the measures, though, underscores the lack of deal-making in a Senate primarily driven by deep partisan divides.
“There is a solution here and I’m committed to finding it,” said Ayotte, who is working with other lawmakers on an upcoming bill that proposes to keep people on the federal “no fly list” from buying firearms.
Feinstein wasn’t optimistic for a compromise, saying “maybe, just maybe this next election can produce something.”
Legislation on gun background checks also failed on Monday. Republicans, led by Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, pushed a measure to bolster federal databases to make it easier to notify law enforcement if someone under investigation as a terrorist in recent years tries to buy a firearm.
They also sought to make it easier to add mental health records to the database. Democrats argued the measure has loopholes for mentally ill people to buy guns, and it received just 53 of the needed 60 votes.
A Democratic proposal also failed that would require, with few exceptions, background checks for the transfer or sale of a gun, including at gun shows and online. The measure won 44 of the needed 60 votes.
Similar legislation failed before, notably in April, 2013, soon after 20 children and six adults were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.