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Divided Senate answers Orlando with gridlock on gun curbs

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., left, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, arrive for a vote on Capitol Hill today in Washington.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa., right, walks towards the Senate on Capitol Hill, today in Washington.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., left, accompanied by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., spoke on Capitol Hill on June 16 in Washington. Democrats get their long-sought votes on gun control a week after the massacre in Orlando, Florida, but the prospects for any election-year changes in the nation’s laws are dim.

WASHINGTON » A divided Senate blocked rival election-year plans to curb guns today, eight days after the horror of Orlando’s mass shooting intensified pressure on lawmakers to act but knotted them in gridlock anyway — even over restricting firearms for terrorists.

In largely party-line votes, senators rejected one proposal from each side to keep extremists from acquiring guns and a second shoring up the government’s system of required background checks for many firearms purchases.

With the chamber’s visitors’ galleries unusually crowded for a Monday evening — including relatives of victims of past mass shootings and people wearing orange T-shirts saying #ENOUGH gun violence — each measure fell short of the 60 votes needed to progress. Democrats called the GOP proposals unacceptably weak while Republicans said the Democratic plans were too restrictive.

(Hawaii Democratic senators, Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono, voted in favor of the bill.)

The stalemate underscored the pressure on each party to stand firm on the emotional gun issue going into November’s presidential and congressional elections. It also highlighted the potency of the National Rifle Association, which urged its huge and fiercely loyal membership to lobby senators to oppose the Democratic bills.

“Republicans say, ‘Hey look, we tried,’” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. “And all the time, their cheerleaders, the bosses at the NRA, are cheering them.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the Orlando shootings — in which the FBI says the American-born gunman swore allegiance to a Islamic State group leader — show the best way to prevent extremists’ attacks here is to defeat them overseas.

“No one wants terrorists to be able to buy guns,” McConnell said. He suggested that Democrats used the day’s votes “to push a partisan agenda or craft the next 30-second campaign ad.”

That Monday’s four roll-call votes occurred at all was testament to the political currents buffeting lawmakers after gunman Omar Mateen’s June 12 attack on a gay nightclub. The 49 victims who died made it the largest mass shooting in recent U.S. history, topping a string of such incidents that have punctuated recent years.

The FBI said Mateen — a focus of two terror investigations that were dropped — described himself as an Islamic soldier in a 911 call during the shootings. That let gun control advocates add national security and the specter of terrorism to their arguments for firearms curbs.

After the votes, presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton issued a one-word statement, “Enough,” followed by the names and ages of Orlando’s victims.

On Fox News Channel’s “The O’Reilly Factor,” expected GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump said he “absolutely” agrees that people on the government’s terror watch list should be barred from owning guns. He did not say if he supported the Republican or Democratic versions of bills rejected Monday.

Only a handful of lawmakers changed positions from votes cast last December on similar proposals, highlighting each party’s enduring stances on guns. And there’s little sign that the House’s GOP leaders will allow votes.

Even so, GOP senators facing re-election this fall in swing states were under extraordinary pressure.

One vulnerable Republican, New Hampshire’s Sen. Kelly Ayotte, backed both bills blocking gun sales to terrorists, a switch from when she joined most Republicans in killing a similar Democratic plan last December. She expressed support for a narrower bipartisan plan, like one being crafted by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Collins was trying to fashion a bipartisan bill preventing people on the government’s no-fly list from getting guns. She expressed optimism the Senate would vote on her plan, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said that according to McConnell, if Collins wants a vote on her proposal, “She’ll get one.”

Monday’s votes came after Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., led a near 15-hour filibuster last week demanding a Senate response to the Orlando killings. Murphy entered the Senate shortly after the December 2012 massacre of 20 first-graders and six educators in Newtown, Connecticut, but that slaughter and others have failed to spur Congress to tighten gun curbs. The last were enacted in 2007, when the background check system was strengthened after that year’s mass shooting at Virginia Tech.

With Mateen’s professed loyalty to extremist groups and his 10-month inclusion on a federal terrorism watch list, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., proposed letting the government block many gun sales to known or suspected terrorists. People buying firearms from federally licensed gun dealers can currently be denied for several reasons, chiefly for serious crimes or mental problems, but there is no specific prohibition for those on the terrorist watch list.

That list currently contains around 1 million people — including fewer than 5,000 Americans or legal permanent residents, according to the latest government figures. The narrower no-fly list has just 81,000 names.

No background checks are required for anyone buying guns privately online or at gun shows.

The GOP response to Feinstein was an NRA-backed plan by Cornyn. It would let the government deny a sale to a known or suspected terrorist — but only if prosecutors could convince a judge within three days that the would-be buyer was involved in terrorism.

The Feinstein and Cornyn amendments would require notification of law enforcement officials if people, like Mateen, who’d been under a terrorism investigation within the past five years were seeking to buy firearms.

Republicans said Feinstein’s proposal gave the government too much power to deny people’s constitutional right to own a gun and noted that the terrorist watch list has mistakenly included some people. Democrats said the three-day window Cornyn’s measure gave prosecutors to prove their case made his plan ineffective.

Murphy’s rejected proposal would widely expand the requirement for background checks, even to many private gun transactions, leaving few loopholes.

The defeated plan by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, increased money for the background check system. It also revamped language prohibiting some people with mental health issues from buying a gun, which Democrats claimed would reduce current protections.

Today’s votes were 53-47 for Grassley’s plan, 44-56 for Murphy’s, 53-47 for Cornyn’s and 47-53 for Feinstein’s — all short of the 60 needed.

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  • if your group carries: have a designated carry. the designee should not drink any alcohol. know if the carry is there to cover your retreat or to engage.

    police have no duty to protect you. the safety of your family and yourself is your responsibility. how you provide that safety is your choice.

    it’s ironic that hawaii police chiefs deny law abiding citizens the right to carry when obama has sent arms to mexican drug cartels that have already been used to kill americans.

      • The Police Chief is violating the Constitution with the blessings of the liberal federal court in California. That court has basically disregarded the 2nd Amendment. I have to ask, if guns are virtually illegal in Hawaii, why do I hear about shootings and criminals possessing firearms in Hawaii? How is that. Could it be that the criminals possess and carry guns regardless of what the police dictates. Heaven help us when a terrorist arrives and commits his act before that window of time to either register the guns or turn them in.

        • We have the lowest amount of gun ownership in the country, and the lowest incidence of gun violence and murder in the country. Alaska has the highest amount of people with guns, and has the highest incidence of gun violence and murders in the country.

      • seaborn, A homeless man comes up and sticks a gun in your face, what are you going to do? Are you going to lecture him that Hawaiian citizens shouldn’t carry guns while blows your head off?

        • We are supposed to wait for the police to come in that situation. Police are not under obligation to provide protection. Their only obligation is to make arrests and investigate crime after the fact.

        • I am not afraid afraid of the homeless person, they need our help. I am more wary of you

      • interesting, if the citizens have no need to carry because hawaii is so safe and secure, the police force should be disarmed as well. after all, they work and live alongside the same people that we as citizens work and live with.

        if the police consider society safe enough to deny citizens the right to carry, the police and dignitary escorts as well as the secret service should no longer carry firearms.

        • I can tell by the wackos on this comment board that Hawaii does it right. Hey wackos, go back to texaszona.

        • Maybe you should go preach to the folks in Chicago. On Father’s Day weekend in Chicago, 12 people were murdered in 54 different shootings across the city.

        • Interesting, most of the gun owners in this country, in the midsection of this country, from the Gulf of Mexico up to North Dakota, and up to Alaska 40% of total gun deaths are suicides by gun owners

  • It’s a great idea of a prohibiting any gun sales (not just assault rifles but all firearms) to people on the terror watch list. However there must be a way for a person to challenge this if they believe they are placed on the list mistakenly. For example, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass) was mistakenly included on the No-Fly list. Sen. John Cornyn’s proposal is a first step, however 3 days seems a bit short for a law enforcement agency to prove their case before a judge. 2 weeks seems reasonable, however a person should not be able to be indefinitely placed on a secret list that suspends a constitutional right (whether it be 2nd/right to bear arms or 4th/freedom of movement) without evidence and legal recourse.

    • I’m not against denying persons on a terror watch list buying firearms per se but because the list is secret and unchallengeable in court and there is no oversight or no known criteria what cause to have a person to be put on the list….there is tremendous potential for abuse by the government reminiscent of a secret police…..

  • They are realizing the issue is not gun control but an issue of terrorism and criminal control. There are so many laws to prosecute after the fact. What good is prosecution? How do you provide law enforcement the tools and man power necessary to combat those that plan in the shadows and can wait years for the perfect uncontested opportunity to glorify their own suicide?

    • When the liberals succeed in disarming the law abiding citizens, then terrorists have all the opportunity in the world to commit acts of violence. Belgium, England and France have extremely strict laws on gun ownership, those laws has failed to stop the massive terror attacks in those countries.

      • No comment from Obama on his home. “CHICAGO — On Father’s Day weekend in Chicago, 12 people were murdered in 54 different shootings across the city.
        Among the dead is a 16-year-old boy. The youngest of the injured is just 3, police tell CNN.
        This weekend is unfortunately not atypical in Chicago, where shooting deaths this year are on track to be the worst in two decades.”

        • The readers should know that a gun ban similar to the one in Hawaii is enforced in the CIty of Chicago. Guess the law was not regarded by the 54 shooters in Chicago. Same as how the law was not regarded by that lovely lady holding up the Waianae Aloha Mini Mart with a pistol last week.

        • So what is the value of having law abiding citizens disarmed when there are foreigners with no love for this country or our values eager to cause violence? I live in the real world. Not some utopia.

  • Once again, Washington fails us. All they can give us is “a moment of silence”. Regardless of party, our elected officials are pathetic.

  • Just one more reason to add to the already long list of reasons to not vote Republican. Are Democrats perfect? NO WAY! But given the sad choice, at least this time around, I’m voting Democratic. Not just in the Presidential race but all the way down to the local level. C’mon, Repubs, we are hungry for your party to be sane and to give us good reasons to support your candidates.

    • This is the best example of reasons not to vote Democrat. The Democrats want to let in possible terrorists. Do not want to profile them or screen them for potential danger. Then they want to fulfill their fantasy of a disarmed society. I live in the real world. Unless a gun ban involves going door to door in all 50 states to confiscate everything, I am not being fooled. I am also not being fooled by the idea that Muslims are harmless, peace loving people. Sure. It is in their Koran that all people must submit to Islam or die.

  • One of the good things about the Trump candidacy, is that it will almost certainly cause the Senate to revert to Democratic control.

    Thanks, Mr. Trump!

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