When Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) stood on the Senate floor for 15 hours last week, joined by nearly 40 of his colleagues who recounted stories of six-year-olds gunned down by assault weapons and trauma doctors who attempted to resurrect dozens of bullet-pierced bodies in Orlando, he knew he was waging a battle against a powerful force.
On Monday, Republicans in the Senate proved, yet again, how strong the National Rifle Association’s grip is on the nation’s highest lawmaking body. Democrats’ efforts to pass legislation to prevent suspected terrorists from buying firearms and to expand background checks to all gun sales both failed in the Senate. Just 47 senators voted in favor of the first measure and 44 for the second.
Roughly 90 percent of Americans — including 80 percent of gun owners — support these measures. But the gun lobby’s outsized political spending and influence in Congress prevailed. In total, the NRA has given more than $36 million to the 56 Republican senators who blocked the gun control measures on Monday.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)’s measure would have given the attorney general the power to block gun sales to potential terrorists on the federal government’s watch list. Given that Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen was under FBI watch for periods of time in the past three years, it’s possible that Feinstein’s measure would have prevented him from purchasing the weapons he used to carry out the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
A separate measure put forth by Murphy, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) would have dealt with what is known as the “background check loophole.” Currently, 40 percent of guns are sold on the internet or at gun shows where background checks are not required.
The Senate voted on two similar proposals in December, after 14 people were killed in San Bernardino California. Both measures also failed in December.
This time around, Republican Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) offered an alternative to Feinstein’s bill, but his proposal is backed by the NRA and was presented as a political maneuver with little chance of success. Cornyn’s amendment would have given the federal government 72 hours to fight in court that a gun sale to a suspected terrorist should be blocked — Everytown for Gun Safety says it would be “nearly impossible for the government to stop suspected terrorists from buying guns” in that short period of time.
And Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced an amendment to improve the National Criminal Instant Background Check System (NICS) by providing more money and resources to the program, but it would not have expanded background checks to all gun sales.
But none of the efforts secured the 60 votes needed to succeed. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) plans to propose another “compromise” to ban gun sales to people on the no-fly list, but her proposal is also unlikely to succeed.
For Erica Lafferty Smegielski — whose mother, Dawn Hochsprung, was the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School and was killed in the shooting there in 2012 — the Senate’s rejection of gun control is nothing new.
In 2013, almost five months after her mom was one of 26 people killed by a gunman armed with assault rifles, the Senate rejected a bipartisan proposal to expand background checks to all gun sales.
“Honestly, it was probably one of the hardest days of my life,” she told ThinkProgress on Monday. “I was so hopeful that we were going to get that last handful of votes, and when I found out that it was not going to happen and the vote failed, it was shattering.”
While it seems like no progress has been made since then, she noted that the Senate vote just days after the Orlando shooting is significant.
“It took Sandy Hook to get a vote,” she said. “After Sandy Hook to the vote was four months. After Orlando, it was four days before Senator Murphy said ‘I’ve had enough, we’re going to vote on this.’ The fact that it got to that point — I don’t even have a word to describe how happy I am.”
Murphy has also said that the effort alone is significant. At one point during his filibuster, he said that that he hopes people understand the importance of his fight.
‘‘Trying and trying and trying to do the right thing is ultimately just as important as getting the outcome in the end,” he said.