Senate votes down proposal to bar gun sales to terrorism suspects

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), center, calls for gun control legislation in the wake of the mass shooting in an Orlando LGBT nightclub this week.
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The Republican-led Senate on Monday voted down proposals to bar gun sales to terrorism suspects, notching another victory for gun rights advocates eight days after a gunman who had been on an FBI terrorism watch list killed 49 people at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

The votes marked the latest attempt by Democrats to break the congressional impasse on guns, a bitter partisan divide that long has blocked new federal regulations.

The body blocked all four proposed gun-related amendments – two by Democrats and two by Republicans – to a spending bill.


The Senate similarly blocked new restrictions on gun sales after the 2012 massacre of 20 schoolchildren and six adults in Newtown, Conn., and the killing of 14 people in December in San Bernardino.

The competing measures Monday focused on two issues: background checks and terrorism watch lists.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) proposed strengthening federal background checks. Sen. Christopher S. Murphy (D-Conn.) proposed expanding the background checks to include sales at gun shows and on the Internet. Both failed.

The other round of voting focused on sales of firearms to people on terrorism watch lists and no-fly lists.

A proposal by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) would have given investigators 72 hours to prove that someone on a watch or no-fly list has ties to terrorism. If not, the suspect would be allowed to purchase a gun.

In the most closely watched measure, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) proposed an amendment that would bar any individual on a terrorism watch list from purchasing a firearm. That failed 47 to 53.

Both sides accused the other of trying to exploit the Orlando shooting for political gain.

“No one wants terrorists to be able to buy guns or explosives. No one,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). He said Senate Democrats were trying to “craft the next 30-second campaign ad,” and he praised Republican efforts to pass legislation.

Murphy said before Monday’s votes that “I have been so angry that this Congress has mustered absolutely no response to mass shooting after mass shooting, in city after city that is plagued by gun violence.”

He staged a nearly 15-hour filibuster last week to force leaders to schedule the votes on Monday, but he acknowledged that the proposals might not pass.

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Polls show Americans favor some new restrictions on gun sales, but compromise in Congress remains out of reach.

Republicans, who are largely backed by the National Rifle Assn., mostly opposed the Democratic bill from Feinstein.

The Orlando shooting has given gun control a central role in the presidential campaign. Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, has backed the Democratic effort.

Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump -- who has said armed patrons in the Pulse nightclub could have tried to stop the killer -- said last week that he would meet with the NRA to discuss options.

Before the vote, Feinstein argued that under her bill, authorities could have blocked Omar Mateen from buying the semiautomatic rifle and handgun that he used in Orlando, because he previously was on the FBI’s watch list.

The NRA and other opponents insisted that Feinstein’s bill could prevent people who are wrongly listed as terrorism suspects from gaining access to firearms.

Many Republicans said they backed Cornyn’s measure.

“Every single senator wants to deny terrorists access to guns they use to harm innocent civilians, but there’s a right way to do things and a wrong way,” Cornyn said before the vote.

With competing measures up for votes, neither was expected to pass.

That’s what happened six months ago when senators considered similar bills after a married couple shot and killed 14 people at a holiday party in San Bernardino.

A separate measure Monday to tighten background checks also failed -- similar to what happened after a gunman killed 20 elementary school children and six adults in December 2012 in Newtown.

The House has shown even less urgency in considering gun control measures in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has suggested taking a slower approach and studying the best legislative response.

“We’ve got to get it right,” Ryan said Sunday on “Meet the Press.” “We’re going to take a deep breath and make sure that this is done correctly.”

The Senate votes came the same day that the Supreme Court turned away another challenge to state laws banning the sale of rapid-fire assault weapons, a victory for gun control supporters.

Without comment or a dissent, the justices dismissed appeals from gun rights advocates in Connecticut and New York who contended the state bans violated their rights under the 2nd Amendment.

The court’s action came as no surprise. In December, the justices had turned down a similar appeal in a case from Highland Park, Ill., but over the dissents of Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

The high court’s refusal to even consider the claim that the 2nd Amendment includes the right to own a rapid-fire weapon strongly suggest the majority of justices see the Constitution’s protection of gun rights as more limited than many advocates maintain.

Times staff writer David G. Savage contributed to this report.

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4:24 p.m: This story was updated with results of the Senate votes

This story was originally posted at 12:34 p.m.