U.S. Senate to debate gun regulations on Monday

There are a number of organizations and media outlets that document mass shootings in America, CNN recently posted Mass shootings in America: The big picture in charts and graphs (snippets):

  • There are more mass shootings in the U.S. than in any other country in the world.
  • While the U.S. has 5% of the world’s population, it had 31% of all public mass shootings.
  • According to the Gun Violence Archive, which compiles data from shooting incidents, a “mass shooting” is any incident where four or more people are wounded or killed. That number can include any gunmen as well. By that definition, we’ve seen 136 mass shootings in the first 164 days of this year.
  • The Orlando attack was by far the deadliest shooting in U.S. history (49 killed), and it is not even 10 years removed from the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre (32 killed), and the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting (27 killed). In fact, of the 30 deadliest shootings in the U.S. dating back to 1949, 16 have occurred in the last 10 years.

This week, the American Medical Association (AMA) proclaimed that gun violence is a public health crisis. AMA Calls Gun Violence “A Public Health Crisis”.

But for years, we have had a Congress that is unwilling  or incapable of taking action to address this public health crisis because it is in thrall to the merchants of death, the weapons manufacturers and their lobbyist allies in the National Rifle Association and other so-called “gun rights” organizations.

Wiley Miller who does the Non Sequitur cartoon strip summed up the situation well this week.

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Senate Democrats staged a 15 hour filibuster this week to get the Tea-Publican controlled Senate to agree to debate and to vote on two measures that have been stalled without congressional action this year.

Steve Benen writes, Stage set for major Senate showdown on gun policy:

This week offered a dramatic Democratic filibuster on gun reforms. Next week will offer the results of the Senate Dems’ efforts.

The Senate will vote on four gun control measures Monday after being prodded by a 15-hour filibuster in the wake of the shooting massacre at a Florida nightclub.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, filed cloture motions Thursday on four gun-related amendments to a spending bill, a day after Democrats ended their filibuster to force some sort of action on gun restrictions.

Democrats, who’ve struggled to get gun-related bills onto the Senate floor since Republicans took control over the majority, demanded votes on two measures, which GOP leaders accepted as part of an agreement to end Wednesday’s filibuster. But Republicans are packaging these two votes with two amendments of their own on the same issue.

To clear the chamber, each will need 60 votes. There are 46 Senate Democrats. (For context, note that the bipartisan background-check bill considered after the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre received 54 votes in a Democratic Senate in 2013, while the terror-watch-list bill received 45 votes two years later.)

Any measure approved by the Senate would face fierce resistance in the GOP-led House.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. What exactly will senators be voting on when the chamber reconvenes on Monday?

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who led this week’s filibuster effort, will offer an amendment expanding background checks to cover guns sold at gun shows and through online dealers.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) will offer an amendment that would improve federal databases to “ensure law enforcement officials are notified if a person under investigation for terrorism in the past five years tries to buy a gun.”

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) will offer an amendment – which enjoys the NRA’s backing – that would “create a waiting period” for those on terror watch lists before they could purchase a gun. The same proposal would require the government to go to court and prove that there’s probable cause to block that purchase.

And then there’s Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who’s putting forward a new version of her bill on terror watch lists. Vox had a good overview on her proposal yesterday, noting just how expansive it is.

[O]ne change that would put more people under additional scrutiny, and one that would give the government the power not just to scrutinize them but to block their gun purchase.

Under current law, the FBI is already notified whenever someone on a “known or suspected terrorist” list (drawn from existing terrorism databases) tries to purchase a gun. Under Feinstein’s legislation, they would also be notified of a gun purchase attempt by anyone who’s under investigation for terroristic activity – or who has been investigated anytime in the past five years. […]

Once someone was flagged, the government would then have the power to veto gun purchases on terrorism grounds – a power it doesn’t have right now. But to block the sale, the government would have to have reasonable suspicion that the person represented “a threat to public safety” and was considering or engaging in terrorist activities.

And what about those who may have been investigated at some point in the previous five years, but who faced no charges and believes the investigation was unwarranted?

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent posed this to Feinstein’s office yesterday. A spokesperson for the senator replied, “Under the amendment, an individual denied a gun would have the ability to learn the reason for the denial. That individual could then appeal the decision administratively with the Justice Department. If necessary, the individual could also sue the Justice Department. This appeals process mirrors the appeals process for other individuals who believe they have wrongly been denied guns.”

It’s likely civil libertarians will consider this process a bridge too far.

In case this weren’t quite complicated enough, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who co-sponsored an expanded background-check bill in 2013, is pushing an alternative to Feinstein’s plan that would have the Justice Department submit a list of suspects to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The court would then review the list, identify those it considers a potential threat, and only those individuals could be blocked from legal gun purchases.

Maine Senator Susan Collins is also attempting to craft a compromise bill that can pass the Senate. Spurred by Orlando Shooting, G.O.P. Senator Offers a Gun Control Compromise:

With congressional leaders once again at a stalemate over how to respond to a mass shooting, the Senate’s most moderate Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, is developing a compromise measure that would prevent some terrorism suspects from purchasing weapons, while sidestepping partisan flash points that have doomed similar legislation in the past and threaten to do so again next week.

The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, has already scheduled votes for Monday on four proposals – two sponsored by Republicans and two by Democrats – but all four are expected to fail in a nearly identical replay of votes last December after the attack in San Bernardino, Calif.

“That’s what I am trying to avoid,” Ms. Collins said in a brief interview riding the subway from the Capitol back to her office on Thursday evening. “I don’t want Groundhog Day here. I don’t want us to go through the same thing we went through last year with no result.”

With lawmakers feeling extreme pressure to take some action in the aftermath of last weekend’s shooting massacre in Orlando, Fla., the proposal by Ms. Collins is a long shot, but it seems to stand at least some chance of forging an agreement that has generally eluded lawmakers for decades amid a debate over how to balance gun rights and public safety.

The legislation being drafted by Ms. Collins would bar the sale of guns to terrorism suspects who appear on either the government’s no-fly list or the so-called “selectee” list, in which individuals are subjected to additional security screening before being allowed to board an airplane. Those lists are far more narrow than the federal terrorist screening database, which is the focus of a proposal sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, one of the four measures to be voted on Monday.

But while the gun restrictions proposed by Ms. Collins would target a narrower group of individuals, her measure does not require federal prosecutors to demonstrate “probable cause” of criminal terrorist activity, which is required in an alternative to the Feinstein measure sponsored by Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican.

Democrats say Mr. Cornyn’s measure, which will also be voted on Monday, sets such a high burden of proof that it renders useless the underlying gun restrictions.

Instead, Ms. Collins has proposed an appeals process that would award attorney’s fees to anyone who successfully challenged the government’s effort to prevent the sale of a firearm.

Ms. Collins agreed that Mr. Cornyn’s measure set a standard too difficult to meet. “If probable cause is found then probably law enforcement could arrest you,” she said. “If you have got that, you are going to be arrested, unless they are leaving you out there in order to catch others.”

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Ms. Collins said she had also been talking to Senator Feinstein, as well as to an array of Republicans including Senators Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Jeff Flake of Arizona, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Ms. Collins and Ms. Feinstein have each added language to their proposals aimed at addressing the situation in Orlando, in which the killer, Omar Mateen, had been on a government watch-list but was removed before he bought his guns. Though they focus on different lists, their proposals would flag for the F.B.I. gun purchases by anyone who had been on the designated watch list within the last five years.

“The F.B.I. is immediately notified that you have bought the gun and that you formerly were on one of these two lists,” she said. “Most likely that is going to lead them to put you back under surveillance or do other investigation and watch you closely. That’s an important provision.”

It is more probable than not that none of these bills and amendments will muster the 60 votes needed for cloture in the Senate, and thus will never proceed to a final vote. In the unlikely event that one of these bills survives and is passed by the Senate, that bill will then go to the House where it is dead on arrival.

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4 responses to “U.S. Senate to debate gun regulations on Monday

  1. captain*arizona

    gun contral advocates already vote democrat. white reagan democrats are pro 2 amendment. 1994 gun control advocates polls say gun control has 80% support democrats lose house and senate in 1994. 2000 gore loses home state of tennessee over gun control and presidency. 2008 / 2012 obama stays away from gun control HE WINS! 2014 gun control cost democratic party historic losses. 2016 trump so bad gun control might not save him or republicans ;but 2018 watch out!

    • AZ BlueMeanie

      Anyone who still uses “Reagan Democrats” is a fool. That was 28 years ago — nearly all of those voters have died since then. Every electorate and every election is different.

      • captain*arizona

        they are still around in the midwest and that is a simple handle for white working class who seemed to be around in 2014.

        • AZ BlueMeanie

          “White working class” is not synonymous with “Reagan Democrats” no matter how much an ignorant lazy troll want its to be.