Congress Stalemated on Guns Despite Shooting, Filibuster

The two sides mostly talked past each other, and efforts to forge consensus quickly sputtered out

By ERICA WERNER, AP Congressional Correspondent

WASHINGTON — The slaughter in Florida and an attention-grabbing filibuster in the Senate did little to break the election-year stalemate in Congress over guns Thursday, with both sides unwilling to budge and Republicans standing firm against any new legislation opposed by the National Rifle Association.

Democrats renewed their call to action after Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., held the floor along with colleagues in a nearly 15-hour filibuster that lasted into the early hours Thursday.

“We can’t just wait, we have to make something happen,” said Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., at an emotional news conference where Democrats joined family members of people killed in the nation’s recent mass shootings. “These are people bound by brutality, and their numbers are growing.”

But Republicans were coolly dismissive of Democrats’ demands.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., derided Murphy’s filibuster as a “campaign talk-a-thon” that did nothing but delay potential votes.

Noting that a few Democrats had skipped a classified briefing on the Florida nightclub shooting to participate in the filibuster, McConnell chided: “It’s hard to think of a clearer contrast for serious work for solutions on the one hand, and endless partisan campaigning on the other.”

Democrats spoke of the need for new gun legislation. Republicans cited the threat posed by the Islamic State group, to which Orlando gunman Omar Mateen swore allegiance while killing 49 people in a gay nightclub early Sunday.

The two sides mostly talked past each other, and efforts to forge consensus quickly sputtered out. As a result, the Senate facing the prospect of taking dueling votes Monday on Democratic and GOP bills, all of which looked destined to fail.

The back and forth came as President Barack Obama visited the victims’ families in Orlando, and the White House and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton joined Senate Democrats’ call for action. Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump weighed in with a tweet suggesting he would meet with the NRA and support efforts to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists. Exactly what he would support was unclear.

It’s the same exercise the Senate has engaged in time and again after mass shootings.

Even after the Newtown, Connecticut, shootings of schoolchildren, the Senate could not pass a bipartisan background checks bill.

After the shooting in San Bernardino, California, last year, the effort was downgraded to trying to pass a bill by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to keep people on a government terrorism watch list or other suspected terrorists from buying guns, but that too failed.

This time, Feinstein is seeking a revote on her bill. Republicans will offer an alternative by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, 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.

Democrats also hoped to offer a new background check bill, and Republicans were deliberating on another piece of legislation they could offer, with Democrats pointing to apparent disagreement within the GOP of evidence their pressure campaign was working. Republicans denied it.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., decried Cornyn’s bill as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and said it would allow “every terrorist to get a gun.” Clinton’s spokesman, Brian Fallon, called Cornyn’s bill a “smokescreen.”

Cornyn responded angrily.

“That’s an incredibly ignorant thing for her to say,” Cornyn said. “That anybody can be denied their constitutional rights without due process of law and without the government coming forward and establishing probable cause, that’s simply un-American

Even as Democrats claimed progress on the issue and pledged to keep up the pressure, they looked unlikely to succeed. Polls show large numbers of Americans agree with the need for at least some limited gun measures such as background checks. Bemocrats have been unable to turn the tide of public opinion to their purpose because the NRA is able to mobilize and energize voters who will threaten to vote lawmakers out on the gun issue alone.

Murphy claimed that his filibuster was responsible for forcing Republicans to agree to hold votes on the issue. Republicans scoffed at that, saying votes had been planned even before Murphy stood to speak.

In the GOP-controlled House, Republicans had no plans to act on guns and minority Democrats were unable to force any action, given House rules less favorable to the minority than in the Senate. Instead the House passed a bundle of previously approved counterterrorism bills and sent them to the Senate again.

“The question is, is going after the Second Amendment how you stop terrorism? No. That’s not how you stop terrorism,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

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