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Seizing Senate Floor Brings Deal to Vote on Gun Reforms

  • Michael Bowman

This frame grab provided by C-SPAN shows Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. "seized the floor" of the Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington, where he was demanding a vote on gun control measures, June 15, 2016.

This frame grab provided by C-SPAN shows Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. "seized the floor" of the Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington, where he was demanding a vote on gun control measures, June 15, 2016.

After more than three years of floor speeches imploring congressional action to combat rampant gun violence in America, Democratic U.S. Senator Chris Murphy took more drastic action Wednesday.

“I’m at my wit’s end. I’ve had enough,” Murphy said Wednesday at the start of what became a nearly 15-hour effort to hold the Senate floor. Early Thursday morning, he ended by urging his colleagues to ask themselves what they can do to make sure the country does not experience another mass shooting.

Murphy said there was an agreement to take up legislation barring those on the FBI’s terror watch list from buying firearms and another bill to expand background checks for gun purchases.

Three days after the Orlando, Florida attack at a gay nightclub, Murphy had pledged to keep speaking until Democrats and Republicans agreed to take action on gun violence.

“The failure of this body to do anything, anything at all, in the face of continued slaughter isn’t just painful. It’s unconscionable,” Murphy said. “I’ve had enough of the ongoing slaughter of innocents, and I’ve had enough of inaction in this body.

“I’m prepared to stand on this floor for, frankly, as long as I can,” he added.

His effort caught the attention of Twitter users in the United States, where it was the top trending topic overnight.

Advocating stricter legislation

The mild-mannered, soft-spoken Democrat joined the Senate one month after a lone shooter killed 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in his home state of Connecticut in December 2012. Murphy has been the Senate’s most persistent advocate of gun control ever since.

Under Senate rules allowing unlimited deliberation, a senator can hold the floor and speak indefinitely. The tactic is called a “talking filibuster” when used to block or delay consideration of a bill. In this case, Murphy held the floor to demand legislative action, not to block it, and thus his protracted remarks technically did not constitute a filibuster.

About 40 Democrats joined Murphy in a carefully orchestrated maneuver to help him retain control of the chamber. Senators made remarks under the guise of asking a question of Murphy, giving him a break from speaking without having to yield the floor.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., joined at right by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., criticizes Republican lawmakers for being too tied to the NRA and the gun lobby, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 14, 2016.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., joined at right by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., criticizes Republican lawmakers for being too tied to the NRA and the gun lobby, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 14, 2016.

“We’re in a new world, a world where lone wolves can get hold of guns and do huge damage,” said Democrat Charles Schumer of New York. “We have to change and adapt to that world.”

Seeking consensus

Most Republicans remain adamantly opposed to any new federal restrictions on Americans’ right to purchase and bear arms. Since the Orlando incident, however, a few have said they are willing to examine limited reforms.

“What we need to do here is do everything we can to make sure that terrorists are not able to buy guns, at least not legally,” said Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, adding that those on the terror watch list need to be able to challenge the FBI’s assessment if a law is passed that prevents them from buying firearms.

“So there’s an obvious opportunity here to work together and find a solution,” Toomey added. “Let’s sit down together and figure out how we achieve this.”

“I take the gentleman’s offer very sincerely,” Murphy responded. “Our hope is that, by holding the floor today … will provide the impetus for our sides to come together and find that common ground.”

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