Four gun control bills are set to receive a vote on the Senate floor Monday, as the demand for gun control legislation reaches a fever pitch in the aftermath of the Orlando terror attack — the deadliest mass shooting in US history.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced the votes late Thursday afternoon. Two of the bills were sponsored by Republicans, while two were backed by Democrats. All will need 60 votes in order to pass, and each is being proposed as an amendment to the Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill before the Senate.
The announcement came after a 15-hour filibuster initiated by Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, on Wednesday. Along with fellow Senate Democrats, Murphy is backing a bill to enhance universal background checks, which would close the so-called gun show loophole, and a bill to ban suspected terrorists on terror watch lists from purchasing weapons.
The other Democratic bill, sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, failed on a party line vote in December, just one day after the San Bernardino attacks. It was voted down by a 54-45 margin, and just one Republican — Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois — voted in favour of the bill.
During a Monday conference call, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York said that if the bill were passed when first brought before the Senate in December, the Orlando terrorist attack would have been avoided.
“We’re just asking for people to come into this country and go out and buy a gun,” Feinstein said during that call with reporters, later adding, “Even if you’re a suspected terrorist, you can go out and buy a gun. And that’s just not right. So I hope there will be a change.”
Opponents to the Feinstein bill say, since you can be placed on a terror watch list without being found guilty of a crime, it could cause US citizens on the list to be erroneously stripped of their Second Amendment right without due process.
“Is going after the Second Amendment how you stop terrorism? No,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said during his Thursday press briefing. “That’s not how you stop terrorism.”
The lead Republican proposal was reintroduced by Sen. John Cornyn of Texas on Thursday. It’s a slightly altered version of the SHIELD Act, which was shot down late last year.
If passed, the attorney general can delay a weapons purchase by any person who is either a known or suspected terrorist, or has been subjected to a terrorism-related investigation within the past five years for three days. Law enforcement would need to get a court order within that three day window in order to stop the sale, should probable cause be shown before a judge. The bill also allows for the attorney general to take the purchaser into custody if a judge determines probable cause.
“It would not only stop terrorists from getting guns, but it would take them off the streets, and it would do so in a way that’s consistent with our Constitution,” Cornyn said in the release. “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.”
“My legislation actually does what we need to do to give law enforcement first the notice that this individual is trying to buy a weapon, and then the opportunity to take them off the streets and deny them access to a firearm,” he continued. “We need a robust response to protect American citizens but one that doesn’t infringe on constitutional rights.”
McConnell came out in favour of the legislation, calling it a “serious solution” in a release. The National Rifle Association — soon after presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday about meeting with the organisation to discuss potential terror watch list-related gun control with the organisation — announced its support of the legislation as well.
The second Republican proposal came from Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey. He crafted legislation that would direct the attorney general to create a new list of suspected terrorists who could be barred from buying weapons.
“We don’t want terrorists to be able to walk into a gun store and buy a gun, and we don’t want innocent, law-abiding citizens to be denied Second Amendment rights because he’s wrongly on the list with a bunch of terrorists,” Toomey said during a Wednesday speech on the Senate floor. The Pennsylvania senator’s bill is not up before the Senate Monday.
Democrats roundly rejected both pieces of legislation.
“The Cornyn bill, which is the last version that I saw, creates a really impossible hurdle for the FBI,” Booker said during his CNN interview.”If they have someone under investigation, they’re going to have three days to mount a court challenge to block them, expose their investigation, and create an environment where that terrorist, now being notified, will say ‘you know what, instead of going to that brick-and-mortar federally licensed gun dealer, I’m just going to go buy off the internet.’ That’s where it falls down.”
He added the legislation is a front to ensure that “no legislation passes.”
Schumer called the proposals “wolves in sheep’s clothing” during a Thursday press conference, adding that under Cornyn’s proposal “every terrorist will get a gun.”
“If the FBI had that evidence, they would have arrested them in the first place,” he said. “It’s a fake. It’s a way to say they’re doing something when they’re doing nothing.”
“[A] whole court case in three days?” he continued. “Who would think that would make any sense!”
He said Toomey’s proposal “was even worse” because it would force the government to rebuild a new terror watch list.
“We’ll be here for decades!” he said.
Another gun-control proposal set to go before the Senate Monday is backed by Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley. It would ensure the FBI is alerted of terror suspects who purchase a weapon, without barring them from doing so. Anyone being investigated or who had been investigated for terror-related activities within five years would be entered into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and the FBI would be notified if one was purchasing a weapon.
The recent push for added gun control came after 49 people were shot dead at an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando by a gunman who pledged allegiance to ISIS.
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