The Senate on Wednesday rejected every single gun-related proposal put before it. In a mini vote-a-rama on seven amendments to a gun-violence bill, each proposal failed to garner the 60 votes needed to advance.
The votes show just how hamstrung lawmakers have become on gun-related issues. They could not find bipartisan consensus on any proposal from any viewpoint. They voted down a gun-rights’ amendment to allow people who have conceal-carry permits to take guns to other states as well as a gun-control proposal to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. They couldn’t even find 60 votes for a generally mild proposal to expand penalties for weapons trafficking.
The voting will continue on Thursday on two smaller amendments—one that would withhold funds from state and local governments that misuse sensitive information about gun owners, and one to update several mental health programs. Republicans say they want the debate to continue into next week with lots more amendments.
But for gun-control advocates, the end came with the Senate’s first vote Wednesday on a bipartisan proposal to expand buyer background checks to gun shows and Internet sales. The compromise proposal, carefully hammered out by Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., stood the best chance of passing of any of the substantive gun-control measures on the table. Yet the 54-46 vote for the Manchin-Toomey amendment was shy of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster. (By way of comparison, an assault weapons ban offered by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., only got 40 votes.)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., switched his "yes" vote on the Manchin-Toomey measure to a "no" at the last minute in order to retain his authority to bring the measure to the floor at another time. Four Republicans voted with most Democrats to support the background-check proposal—Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Mark Kirk of Illinois, John McCain of Arizona, and Toomey.
Four pro-gun Democrats voted against the Manchin-Toomey proposal — Sens. Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.
Most Democrats were furious at the outcome. In a brief Rose Garden appearance, President Obama blamed Republicans for going against the desires of 90 percent of Americans after recent polls found that level of support for background checks. “Ninety percent of Democrats in the Senate just voted for that idea. But it’s not going to happen because 90 percent of Republicans in the Senate just voted against that idea,” Obama said.
The most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 86 percent of respondents favored background checks at gun shows and for online purchases.
Republicans saw the situation quite differently, worrying that the background-check bill in particular would hurt lawful gun owners. “The primary effect of most of the bills we voted on today, including the expansion of background checks, was to limit the rights of law-abiding citizens,” said Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.
The National Rifle Association’s opposition was in full force, muting the dogged efforts of gun-control advocates who saw new life breathed into their movement after December’s shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
NRA Executive Director Chris Cox said the background-check proposal “would have criminalized certain private transfers of firearms between honest citizens, requiring lifelong friends, neighbors, and some family members to get federal government permission to exercise a fundamental right or face prosecution.”
Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, saw the outcome in the Senate differently. Gross called it “an insult to the 90 people killed by gun violence every day.”
This article appears in the April 18, 2013 edition of NJ Daily.