Senate to vote on gun control, prospects dim for change

2016-06-20 14:40

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Washington – Democrats get their long-sought votes on gun control a week after the massacre in Orlando, Florida, but election-year politics and the powerful National Rifle Association dim any prospects for changes in the nation's laws.

The Senate will vote on Monday night on four measures – two sponsored by Republicans, two by Democrats. All are expected to fail in a bitterly divided Congress.

Gun control remains at a stalemate as few lawmakers are willing to challenge the NRA and no mass shooting the past five years – from Phoenix; to Aurora, Colorado; to Newtown, Connecticut; to Charleston, South Carolina; to San Bernardino, California – has led to new laws. Polls show large numbers of Americans agree with the need for at least some limited gun measures such as background checks. But Democrats have been unable to translate that into legislation because the NRA is able to mobilise and energise voters who will threaten to vote lawmakers out on the gun issue alone.

"Laws didn't stop them in Boston. Laws didn't stop them in San Bernardino, where you had every type of gun control law that you could have. And they didn't stop them in Paris, where people can't even own guns," NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre told CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday.

The four votes on Monday night are the result of a deal after Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn, filibustered for almost 15 hours seeking action in response to the Orlando shooting that killed 49 people and injured 53. Democrats are expected to block two Republican amendments, arguing that they fall short in controlling the sales of guns. Republicans are expected to block two Democratic amendments, contending that they threaten the constitutional rights of gun owners.

Murphy signalled that passage of the measures was unlikely and focused on the response to his filibuster.

"It wasn't just that 40 senators came to the floor and supported my effort to get these votes but there were millions of people all across the country who rose up and who joined our effort," Murphy said on Sunday on ABC's "This Week."

‘No-fly list’

The Senate will vote on a measure by Murphy to expand gun background checks and one by Sen Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, to keep people on a government terrorism watch list or other suspected terrorists from buying guns. The Justice Department has endorsed her legislation.

As a counter, Republican Sen John Cornyn of Texas is pushing a measure that would allow the government to delay a gun sale to a suspected terrorist for 72 hours, but require prosecutors to go to court to show probable cause to block the sale permanently. The NRA backs the legislation, but gun control advocates and Democrats say that bar is too high.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley's measure would boost funds for the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and ensure that the correct records are uploaded into the system in a timely manner. It would also clarify language surrounding mental health issues that would disqualify someone from buying a gun. Democrats say that language in the bill would actually roll back some current protections.

The Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, was added to a government watch list of individuals known or suspected of being involved in terrorist activities in 2013, when he was investigated for inflammatory statements to co-workers. But he was pulled from that database when that investigation was closed 10 months later.

Both the Feinstein and Cornyn amendments would try to ensure that individuals like Mateen who had been a subject of a terrorism investigation within the last five years are flagged. Grassley's would require that law enforcement be notified if a person had been investigated in the last five years and attempted to purchase a gun.

Last week, presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump tweeted that he would meet with the NRA about "not allowing people on the terrorist watch list, or the no fly list, to buy guns." Exactly what he would support was unclear.

Separately, moderate Republican Sen Susan Collins of Maine is working with other Republicans, as well as talking to Democrats, on a bill that would prevent people on the no-fly list – a smaller universe than targeted by Democrats – from getting guns. But her bill had not been blessed by GOP leaders and it was unclear if it would get a vote.

In the GOP-controlled House, Republicans had no plans to act on guns and Democrats were unable to force any action, given House rules less favourable to the minority party than in the Senate.

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