Gun Control Efforts Fail in Senate After California Shooting

Gun Control Efforts Fail in Senate After California Shooting
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Several gun control measures failed in the Senate Thursday afternoon, just one day after a mass shooting in California left 14 people dead and more than 20 injured.

Democrats forced votes that would have expanded background checks and barred anyone on the terrorism watch list from purchasing firearms. They proposed them as amendments to a bill repealing the Affordable Care Act through a process known as budget reconciliation, which allows for unlimited amendments.

The background check amendment, similar to the gun control legislation that failed to pass the Senate in 2013 after the Sandy Hook school shooting, failed with 48 senators in favor and 50 against. Republican Sens. Mark Kirk (Ill.), Susan Collins (Maine), John McCain (Ariz.) and Pat Toomey (Pa.) voted for the measure, while Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) voted against it. Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) didn’t vote.

The other amendment would have allowed the attorney general to bar anyone on the terrorism watch list from acquiring gun or explosive licenses if it was reasonably believed they might use them in a terrorist act. That vote failed 44-53, with Kirk, who is facing a tough re-election battle in 2016, the only Republican voting for it and Heitkamp the only Democrat to vote against it.

In a press conference prior to the votes, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the third-ranking Democrat in the chamber, offered his thoughts and prayers to the victims in California, but said that is not enough.

“The time for prayers, thoughts and sympathies is now, but it is also a time to act,” Schumer said. “This country is dangerously close to falling into a new normal where mass shootings of children, of healthcare workers, of moms and dads, brothers and sisters, is commonplace. Is this the kind of country we want to be?"

Republicans offered their own amendments to counter the Democratic ones. Sen. John Cornyn, (R-Texas), the second-ranking Republican in the chamber, offered a counter-amendment on the terrorism watch list that would have allowed the attorney general to delay a suspected terrorist trying to get a gun for 72 hours, requiring a court to approve blocking the firearm sale. Cornyn argued the Democratic measure would violate the Constitution. His amendment failed 55-44, with Sens. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) voting for it and Kirk voting against.

"I think it’s just wrong. It’s un-American. It violates the very core constitutional protections afforded to all Americans,” Cornyn said on the Senate floor of the Democrats’ amendment.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, introduced a counter-measure to the background check amendment that would have strengthened the background check system, increased funding for prosecuting criminals who fail background checks and also criminalized straw purchases and gun trafficking. That amendment failed 53-46, with Donnelly voting for it and Kirk and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) voting against. 

The California shooting took place Wednesday in San Bernardino at a holiday party in a social services center. Police killed the two suspects in a shootout hours later, and President Obama said Thursday he could not rule out terrorism as a motive. The FBI is investigating the motives and planning, according to NPR.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, where 20 children and six teachers died in a 2012 elementary school shooting, criticized Republicans for voting on repealing Obamacare rather than approving gun control measures.

“All I’ve heard today in this building so far is business as usual,” Blumenthal said. “We’re going to take another vote on the Affordable Care Act. Congress is complicit in these mass murders when it fails to act. Inaction makes Congress complicit.”

Schumer said gun control is an issue Senate Democrats will return to repeatedly in the coming weeks and months. He said other measures, like an assault weapons ban, will be considered in the future, but background checks and the terrorism watch list were the most pressing issues. Asked why he thought there was the political will to pass these measures now, given the opposition gun control has faced in the past, Schumer said, “America is changing.”

“The mass shootings, week after week, different types of people all being killed, is arousing the American conscience, and we will win these fights,” he said. “If we don’t win today, we’ll win next month or the month after that or the month after that. The worst thing we can do is do nothing and let those who are hiding out of fear of the NRA stay under the covers.”

James Arkin is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at jarkin@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesArkin.

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