CAPITOL HILL - A bipartisan Senate bill to block gun sales to suspected terrorists has been unveiled in the wake of the recent Orlando club shooting, and one day after the chamber voted down a series of proposals to restrict those eligible to buy firearms and expand screening of gun purchasers.
Republicans late Monday blocked two longstanding proposals that Democrats championed with renewed vigor after Islamic State-inspired shooter Omar Mateen killed 49 clubgoers and wounded 53 others just over a week ago in Orlando, Florida.
One measure would block those on a variety of federal terror watchlists, including those barred from flying, from buying guns. Another would expand mandatory background checks for firearms purchases to include gun show and internet sales.
Both measures failed to get the three-fifths backing required to be attached as amendments to pending legislation in the Senate.
President Barack Obama took to Twitter to express his disappointment. "Gun violence requires more than moments of silence. It requires action. In failing that test, the Senate failed the American people," he tweeted.
Gun violence requires more than moments of silence. It requires action. In failing that test, the Senate failed the American people.— President Obama (@POTUS) June 21, 2016
"I'm mortified by today's vote," said Democrat Chris Murphy, who commandeered the Senate floor for 15 hours last week to demand legislative action on gun violence.
"What am I going to tell 49 grieving families [in Orlando]?" asked Florida Democrat Bill Nelson. "Sadly, what I'm going to have to tell them is the NRA [National Rifle Association gun rights lobbying group] won again."
Republicans said they could not vote for any proposal that did not provide a means for those wrongly placed on the terror watchlist to contest the government's determination, alleging the Democratic measure would deny Americans their constitutional right to bear arms without due process of law.
"We all agree that terrorists should not be able to purchase a weapon," said Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas. "The question is whether we are going to do so in a way that's constitutional."
"Our [Democratic] colleagues want to make this about gun control when what we should be making this about is the fight to eliminate the Islamic extremism that is the root cause for what happened in Orlando," Cornyn added.
Democrats, meanwhile, defeated two Republican proposals. One would deny gun sales to terror suspects, but only if the federal government promptly demonstrates to a judge's satisfaction that an individual is too dangerous to be sold a firearm. Another proposal would simply notify U.S. law enforcement when someone investigated for terrorism in recent years buys a gun.
Democrats said both Republican proposals are too weak to keep deadly weapons out of the hands of evil-doers.
Pattern of defeat
Monday's votes continued a pattern of legislative defeat for gun control measures in the aftermath of high-casualty shooting rampages in the United States. The Senate also blocked gun reform proposals after the 2012 slaughter of 20 elementary schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut, and after last year's terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, that killed 14 people.
"We shouldn't be talking past each other and voting on things we know are going to fail," complained Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who has been working with a small group of moderate lawmakers on a compromise gun control bill in hopes of attracting bipartisan support.
Toomey said legislation to be unveiled shortly will accomplish two goals.
"Number one, terrorists shouldn't be able to buy guns legally. That shouldn't be terribly controversial," the Republican senator said. "But it also shouldn't be controversial that if an innocent American is denied his or her right to buy a gun because they are alleged to be a terrorist, they ought to have an opportunity to clear their name."
"Governments make mistakes. The federal government makes mistakes all the time," Toomey added.
Democrats fumed late Monday over continued congressional inaction after yet another mass-shooting, and pledged to make the issue a central point of contention in this year's elections.
"Another missed opportunity. Today we couldn't even agree to prevent known and suspected terrorists from buying guns," lamented Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, who authored the Democratic terror watchlist proposal that has now been voted down twice in the chamber.
"We're going into an election season, and Mr. and Mrs. America, you have to stand up. And you have to say, I'm going to vote only for people who will do something to close the terror gap [in gun laws]'," Feinstein added.
"This country is under attack," said Murphy. "Terrorists today are using assault weapons rather than IEDs [improvised explosive devices] or airplanes to attack Americans."
Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky accused Democrats of using the Orlando tragedy "as an opportunity to push a partisan agenda or craft the next 30-second campaign ad."