A compromise bill to prevent people on the no-fly list from buying guns survived a Senate vote on Thursday, but won only eight Republican supporters – an ominous sign for its future.
The proposal by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has been characterized by its supporters as the bipartisan deal that could result in Senate action to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists. Collins introduced the legislation to fanfare after the Senate defeated four gun control measures in the wake of gunman Omar Mateen’s murder of 49 people at an Orlando nightclub.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., made a parliamentary maneuver to kill Collins’ legislation Thursday but it survived on a 52-46 vote. That is still far less, though, than the 60 votes necessary to win Senate passage.
The Senate vote came right after the House Democrats ended their 26-hour sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives to demand action on gun control.
"Surely on an issue of this importance we should be able to come together for common sense solutions," Collins pleaded before the vote.
No one spoke on the Senate floor against the measure, but the National Rifle Association is opposed to it. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, complains the bill would not give people a court hearing before their right to purchase a gun is taken away – potentially after being mistakenly added to a terror list.
If somebody is dangerous enough we won’t let them fly on a plane they shouldn’t be able to purchase a gun
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.
Collins’ bill would restrict gun purchases by those the federal government has determined pose a terror risk and are either on the federal no-fly list or the "selectee" list, which means they undergo additional screening before boarding planes.
There are 109,000 people on the federal no-fly and selectee lists, according to Collins. About 2,800 are U.S. citizens. People denied guns under Collins’ measure could appeal the decision in court.
"If somebody is dangerous enough we won’t let them fly on a plane they shouldn’t be able to purchase a gun," said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a co-sponsor.
But only eight of the 54 Republicans in the Senate joined Flake and Collins in protecting the measure.
All Senate Democrats voted to keep the bill alive except for two, Dianne Feinstein of California and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who missed the vote. Feinstein, who proposed a broader gun control measure that was defeated earlier this week, had to return to California for a family matter, according to her office.
Feinstein said the Collins bill doesn’t go far enough. Feinstein wants to give the Justice Department authority to deny guns to people on the FBI’s consolidated terror watch list, which is much larger than the federal no-fly and selectee lists.
"The effect of using the much smaller no-fly and selectee lists is that nearly 1 million foreign nationals on the terrorist watch list — who may be affiliated with terrorist groups like al Qaeda, ISIL and Al Nusra — would not be covered, and may be able to legally buy guns in this country," Feinstein said in a written statement. "This defies logic and poses a national security risk."
Sanders, who was giving a speech in New York on Thursday, is expected to back Collins’ measure. If both he and Feinstein vote for it, support from six more Republicans would still be needed for it to pass.