Senate inches toward possible gun control
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[June 17, 2016]
By Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A long-running
battle over gun control in the United States reaches a critical stage
next week in the U.S. Senate amid signs Americans are more willing to
accept limited restrictions after the deadliest mass shooting in modern
While it is far from likely new measures will pass, the Orlando,
Florida, gay nightclub massacre of 49 people and a suggestion by
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump that something be
done have fostered a different atmosphere.
While President Barack Obama was in Orlando consoling the survivors
of the rampage by a gunman who claimed allegiance to Islamic State
militants, the U.S. Senate moved closer to votes on limited gun
About 71 percent of Americans, including eight out of 10 Democrats
and nearly six out of 10 Republicans, favor at least moderate
regulations and restrictions on guns, according to a Reuters/Ipsos
poll conducted from Monday to Thursday. That was up from 60 percent
in late 2013 and late 2014.
As always, Democrats were challenging Republicans to vote for new
restrictions and reject pressure from the National Rifle
Association, the powerful gun lobby that has been known to punish
politicians who thwart its will.
U.S. Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut and fellow Democrats set
the U.S. Capitol abuzz by talking on the Senate floor for nearly 15
straight hours to demand that Congress act on gun control.
They ended their speeches before dawn, citing a Republican pledge to
hold votes soon on measures to expand background checks on gun
buyers and to prevent people on U.S. terrorism watch lists from
VOTES ON MONDAY
The Senate is expected to vote on Monday on four proposals. One from
Democrat Dianne Feinstein would let the government prevent terrorist
suspects from buying guns. A second from Republican John Cornyn, the
No. 2 Senate Republican, would require court approval within three
days for a government ban on an individual's attempt to buy a gun.
Democrats have said Cornyn's plan is unworkable; Republicans say
Feinstein's might harm the rights of people wrongly on terror
A third proposal, from Democrat Murphy, would expand background
check procedures to the sales of all firearms, including those
online and at gun shows. A fourth proposal, from Republican Senator
Chuck Grassley, would provide for law enforcement to be notified if
a person investigated for terrorism in the last five years tries to
buy a gun.
Gun control is a potent issue in U.S. politics. Republicans, who
control the Senate, have blocked Democratic-backed gun control
measures over the years, saying they infringe on the right to bear
arms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
Any bill would have to pass both houses of Congress and be signed by
the president to become law. At his weekly news conference on
Thursday, Paul Ryan, speaker of the House of Representatives,
injected a note of caution.
“We don't take away a citizen's rights without due process,” said
Ryan, the top U.S. elected Republican. “If you have a quick idea in
the heat of the moment that says let's take away a person's rights
without due process, we're going to defend the Constitution."
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Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) (center L) and Senator Richard
Blumenthal (D-CT) (center R) depart the Senate floor directly after
ending a 14-hour filibuster in the hopes of pressuring the U.S.
Senate to action on gun control measures, at the U.S. Capitol in
Washington, U.S. June 16, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
A string of mass shootings across the United States in schoolhouses,
churches, movie theaters and other public places has failed to break
The last major gun control measure was a ban in 1994 on
semi-automatic assault weapons such as the one used in Orlando on
Sunday. The ban expired 10 years later.
One of the most dramatic moments in the Senate debate came when
Republican Senator John McCain, who is in a tough re-election race
in Arizona, told reporters Obama is “directly responsible” for
Islamic State-inspired attacks on Americans like the one in Orlando.
He later said he meant to say he blamed Obama's decision to withdraw
most U.S. forces from Iraq, and that this had fueled the rise of
Murphy, asked what would be the message if the Senate fails to act
on the gun control measures next week, suggested it could be a
campaign issue for the Nov. 8 election.
"There are going to be a lot of voters in this country who are going
to watch ... the votes that are cast next week," he said.
TALKING TO NRA
Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president has been
endorsed by the NRA. He jumped into the gun debate by saying he
would meet with NRA leaders to talk about barring people who are on
terrorism watch lists from buying guns.
"I'll be looking at it very, very seriously - the terror watch list
and the no-fly list, I’m going to be talking to the NRA about that
and starting a real dialogue. I think a lot of people agree with me
but I want to really hear what they have to say," Trump told Fox
News on Wednesday night.
Democrats were deeply skeptical that Trump's word signaled any sort
of shift toward more Republican support for Democratic-backed gun
"He is going to meet with the NRA. ... What's he going to come out
saying? 'Oh the NRA and I agreed we shouldn't have terrorists have
guns,' but doing nothing about it," U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer of
New York told reporters.
(Additional reporting by Alana Wise and Mohammad Zargham; Writing by
Steve Holland; Editing by Howard Goller and Peter Cooney)
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