The GOP-led Senate voted down proposals to bar gun sales to terrorism suspects Monday, notching another victory for gun-rights advocates eight days after a gunman who had been on an FBI terrorism watch list killed 49 people at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla.
The votes marked the latest attempt by Democrats to break the congressional impasse on guns, a bitter partisan divide that long has blocked new federal regulations.
The body blocked all four proposed gun-related amendments — two by Democrats and two by Republicans — to a spending bill.
The Senate similarly blocked new restrictions on gun sales after the 2012 massacre of 20 schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn., and the mass shooting of 14 people last December in San Bernardino, Calif.
The competing measures Monday focused on two issues: background checks and terrorism watch lists.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, proposed strengthening the existing system for federal background checks. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., proposed expanding the background checks to include sales at gun shows and on the Internet. Both failed.
Another round of voting focused on sales of firearms to people on terrorism watch lists and no-fly lists.
A proposal by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, would have given investigators 72 hours to prove that someone on a terror watch or no-fly list has ties to terrorism. If not, the suspect would be allowed to purchase a gun.
In the most closely watched measure, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., proposed an amendment that would bar any individual on a terrorism watch list from purchasing a firearm. That failed 47-53.
Both sides blamed the other for trying to exploit the Orlando shooting for political gain.
“No one wants terrorists to be able to buy guns or explosives. No one,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He said Senate Democrats were trying to “craft the next 30-second campaign ad,” and he praised Republican efforts to pass legislation.
“I have been so angry that this Congress has mustered absolutely no response to mass shooting after mass shooting, in city after city that is plagued by gun violence,” Murphy said before Monday’s vote.
Murphy staged a nearly 15-hour filibuster last week to force leaders to schedule the votes on Monday, but he acknowledged that the proposals might not pass.
Polls show Americans favor some new restrictions on gun sales, but compromise in Congress remains out of reach.
Republicans, who are largely backed by the National Rifle Association, mostly opposed the bill from Feinstein that would ban individuals on federal terrorist watch lists – including the no-fly list – from purchasing guns.
Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri voted for Grassley’s and Cornyn’s proposals:
“We face more threats coming from more directions than ever before, and keeping Americans safe is our top priority,” Blunt said. “The SHIELD Act (Cornyn’s amendment) would keep guns out of the hands of terrorists, and enhance law enforcement’s ability to take them into custody to prevent an attack. The bill also allows for a reasonable appeals process to protect the rights of law-abiding individuals.
“The recent attack in Orlando underscores the danger we face in every community across this country. We all agree that we have to prevent terrorists from purchasing and possessing weapons to carry out attacks on our soil. I urge Democrats to reconsider their opposition and work with us to advance solutions that will protect Americans without compromising their Constitutional rights.”
Republican Sen. Pat Roberts also backed Grassley’s and Cornyn’s plans:
“I supported the Cornyn Amendment to ensure firearms are not sold to suspected terrorists on watch lists, and I supported the Grassley Amendment to improve the background check system,” Roberts said. “These amendments will keep firearms out of the hands of bad actors while at the same time ensuring we do not infringe upon 2nd Amendment rights.”
Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas also supported his GOP colleagues’ legislation:
“We must keep suspected terrorists from acquiring guns while also protecting law-abiding citizens’ rights,” he said in a statement. “I voted to require notification to the proper authorities should any suspected terrorist attempt to purchase a firearm, as well as give law enforcement the tools they need to detain a terrorist trying to purchase a firearm provided a showing of probable cause.”
McCaskill voted for Feinstein’s and Murphy’s amendments:
“Most Missourians and most Americans support these small, commonsense steps to help stem the horrific gun violence we see in this country—but their voices are being drowned out by a gun lobby that’s once again worked its magic on Congress.”
McCaskill opposed the Cornyn and Grassley plans: “These measures are completely impractical and will have no real impact on gun violence in this country, which is how you know they were written by the NRA.”
The Orlando shooting has given gun control a central role in the presidential campaign. Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has backed the Democratic effort.
Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump – who has said armed patrons inside the Pulse nightclub could have tried to stop the killer in Orlando – said last week he would meet with the NRA to discuss options.
Before the vote, Feinstein argued that under her bill, authorities could have blocked Omar Mateen from buying the semiautomatic rifle and handgun that he used in Orlando because he previously was on the FBI’s terrorism watch list.
The NRA and other opponents insisted that Feinstein’s bill could prevent people who are wrongly listed as terrorism suspects from gaining access to firearms.
Many Republicans said they backed Cornyn’s measure, which would have allowed federal officials to delay gun purchases for three days while they investigate terrorism suspects.
“Every single senator wants to deny terrorists access to guns they use to harm innocent civilians, but there’s a right way to do things and a wrong way,” Cornyn said before the vote.
With competing measures up for votes, neither was expected to pass.
That’s what happened six months ago when senators considered similar bills after a married couple shot and killed 14 people at a holiday party in San Bernardino.
A separate measure to tighten background checks also failed – similar to what happened after a gunman killed 20 elementary schoolchildren and six adults in December 2012 in Newtown.
The House has shown even less urgency in considering gun control measures in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan has suggested taking a slower approach to studying the best legislative response.
“We’ve got to get it right,” Ryan said Sunday on “Meet the Press.” “We’re going to take a deep breath, and make sure that this is done correctly.”
The Senate vote came the same day that the Supreme Court turned away another challenge to state laws banning the sale of rapid-fire assault weapons, a victory for gun control supporters.
Without comment or a dissent, the justices dismissed appeals from gun rights advocates in Connecticut and New York who contended the state bans violated their rights under the Second Amendment.
The court’s action came as no surprise. In December, the justices had turned down a similar appeal in a case from Highland Park, Ill., but over the dissents of Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
The high court’s refusal to even consider the claim that the Second Amendment includes the right to own a rapid-fire weapon strongly suggest the majority of justices see the Constitution’s protection of gun rights as more limited than many gun rights advocates maintain.
McClatchy’s Lindsay Wise contributed to this report.