The Grassley-Cruz substitute amendment, which would have allowed some mentally ill people to obtain guns more easily, was also voted down 52 to 48. Three Democrats supported it: Sens. Baucus, McCaskill, Landrieu.
The Senate voted down the Manchin/Toomey amendment to expand background checks for gun purchases at gun shows and online, in a vote of 54-46. The measure needed 60 votes to be included in the underlining bill. As Vice President Joe Biden called the finally tally, Tucson survivor Patricia Maisch yelled, “Shame on you!” Outside of chamber she said, “They have no soul.” Watch it:
Four Republicans voted in favor of the measure, including Sens. Collins, McCain, Toomey, and Kirk. Four Democrats voted against it: Sens. Heitkamp, Pryor, Baucus, and Begich.
Currently, the legislation contains a much more expansive background check provision, supported by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), that will almost certainly fall short.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) cornered Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) for offering his alternative gun proposal just hours before the vote, undermining a key GOP talking point that measures must go through “regular order” and be available for lawmakers to review at least 48 hours prior to a vote:
MANCHIN: Would the senator just yield for one quick time, sir? Sir, if i may ask you, do you agree that a bill or amendment should be posted for 48 hours prior to voting?
CRUZ: Is the Senator suggesting that the Senate should move these votes?
MANCHIN: No, I’m just saying, do you believe we should have 48 hours posting?
CRUZ: I think that is ordinarily the right order to follow. And in this case, this bill, this substitute took considerable time and was the result of extended negotiation among a great many senators, and I know my friend from West Virginia has gone through those extended negotiations before and surely will again.
The alternative measure offered by Grassley and Cruz would “create a task-force in the Department of Justice devoted to prosecuting felons or fugitives who attempt to illegally purchase a gun.”
Federal firearm prosecutions has remained steady, varying by no more than 5 percent each year, data from the Department of Justice reveals. Republicans and the NRA specifically cherry pick prosecutions for background checks to imply that the Obama administration has stopped enforcing existing law, though it has gone after gun-related crimes at the same rate as its predecessors. Law enforcement officials often see these cases as a poor use of resources because prosecutors must prove that “the person knew they were lying when they tried to purchase the firearm” in order to secure a conviction which “usually carries a maximum sentence of just six months.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) tore into Republicans for offering alternative gun measures and anti-trafficking proposals at the very last minute, without sending the measures through committee:
LEAHY: But all of a sudden late this morning, with no hearings, no markup, no chance to debate it, we have a partisan alternative led by some members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. People always speak about regular order, but none of these provisions were considered through regular order. None of them were offered or debated in committee. All of a sudden, wait, whoa, we can’t have this thing the law enforcement wants!
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) admitted that the legislation “was not put through the committee” but added that it is “in response” to “testimony and evidence” presented in the committee.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) announced a bipartisan amendment that would encourage schools to develop prevention and early intervention programs for mental health, offer grants that will link local schools to community based mentally health services and provide grants to the states for suicide prevention on college campuses. The measure also invests in mental health awareness training.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) announces his support for background checks and argues that the screening is not a restriction of “the Second Amendment right to bare arms.” McCain announced his support even though the measure is likely to fall short of the 60-vote threshold. “You may not win today, I say to my two colleagues, but you did the right thing,” McCain said of co-sponsors Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA). “Sooner or later this country will take up this issue.”
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) said he opposes the Manchin/Toomey bill because it is “the first step in the erosion of our rights under the Second Amendment.” “More background checks today. Gun registratlion tomorrow. Who knows where this all leads?”
Shelby also suggested that the broken immigration system demonstrates that the government would be incapable of tracking guns:
“There are as many guns in this country perhaps as there are people, according to some estimates. That’s more than 300 million people and there are probably over 300 million guns. The bureaucracy that we have today cannot track all of the people illegally residing in this country. Why then would anyone believe that the bureaucracy could track all of the guns illegally possessed in this country?“
“There is no doubt that we need to do more to curb the senseless acts of violence that continue to occur in this country,” Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), an opponent of the underlining gun bill, said. “One of the things we need are parents, parents to be more careful and more repetitive at telling their kids that it is not right to kill people. It’s not even right to bully them. And it’s definitely not right for them to kill themselves. Until we can get that message across to our kids, I hope that we don’t rely on a few votes by this body to make everybody feel comfortable that all the problem is taken care of.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who is offering his own background check amendment, argued that Manchin/Toomey would create a “slippery slope of compromise to the Second Amendment” by “creating new loopholes” in the screening system and building momentum for expanding background checks even further.
Sen. Chirs Murphy (D-CT) is tearing up as he talks about the Newtown families and the loss they live with. “Losing a child is an unnatural reality. What should be just as unnatural is the senator’s unwillingness to do something to change that reality,” he said. “These parents just can’t understand the casual willingness of this body to turn our backs on a chance to make sure that that kind of loss doesn’t happen to more parents. to them, that would be truly unnatural.”
Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) offered an amendment that would restore gun rights to veterans who the Veterans Administration has deemed mentally incapacitated or incompetent without a review process. These individuals are currently banned from firearm ownership under federal law, though the Manchin-Toomey amendment would allow veterans to appeal the finding before they lose their gun rights.
Veterans advocates worry that mentally ill veterans are at a high risk for self-harm, noting that 18 veterans die by suicide each day.
Coburn is making the case of his alternative amendment to expand background checks. Unlike Manchin/Toomey, Coburn would not require federally licensed gun dealers to maintain a record of the check and does not include a way to enforce the requirement. Coburn says that his amendment would allow Americans to easily run background checks and that most would comply.
“We can’t legislate away the evil that is about us, we can’t fix it all with a law,” he said, before complaining about America’s “moral decline” and lack of “moral leadership.” Watch it:
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) is making the case against Sen. John Cornyn’s (R-TX) concealed carry reciprocity amendment. The measure would require all states to recognize out-of-state permits for concealed handguns, essentially eliminating tough state gun standards and establishing a low federal floor of regulation.
State laws that deny permits to people who have been convicted of certain violent misdemeanors or require gun safety training could be ignored, as states with tighter gun regulations would have to accept permit holders from states with looser standards — even if those permit holders would have been prevented from carrying guns in the state where they are traveling.
Earlier today, Cornyn argued that states should recognize out-of-state permits, as they do driver licenses. Law enforcement would be required to honor concealed carry permits from all 50 states but without a national database of various permits, they would be unable to properly verifying their authenticity.
“Half of all mass killings since 1982 included high capacity magazines,” the Connecticut senator said on the floor. Such mass killings usually result in higher number of casualties –- an average of 29 victims wounded or killed versus an average of 13 victims when the shooter does not have a high capacity magazine.
A statement from Heitkamp’s office confirms that she won’t back the Manchin/Toomey amendment — even though an overwhelming majority—94%—of North Dakotans support background checks. Here is her statement:
“I’ve been adamant from the very beginning of this conversation that the focus should be on mental health issues, full and accurate reporting into the NICS database and ensuring that we are prosecuting criminals in possession of or trying to possess firearms. This conversation should be about what is in people’s minds, not about what is in their hands. I commend Senators Manchin and Toomey for working so hard to bring a serious bill to the floor. However, in its current form I do not see a path for my support. I’ve thought long and hard about this, I’ve taken the tough meetings, and I’ve heard overwhelmingly from the people of North Dakota; and at the end of the day my duty is to listen to and represent the people of North Dakota.”
The NRA-approved substitute Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) offered today would actually make it easier for some mentally ill people to obtain guns. The bill states that it strengthens the federal background check system to ensure that mentally ill people don’t purchase guns. But it defines that term narrowly and would allow patients who had been involuntarily committed and treated for mental illness to pass a federal background check and buy weapons.
For instance, current law prohibits people who are ordered by a court into involuntary treatment from buying weapons — even though individuals can petition to have their rights restored in 22 states. Under the bill, individuals who are released could seek to have their name removed from the federal database immediately and would not have to go through a formal adjudication process to prove worthiness to buy a gun. People who were determined to be a danger to themselves or others would only be prohibited from gun ownership if they are proven to be imminently dangerous.
Earlier today, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) to highlight what he saw as a major oversight in the arguments of gun safety advocates: most of the recent gun shootings took place in gun-free zones where the victims could not adequately defend themselves.
But a review of the 56 mass shootings between January 2009 and January 2013 that was identifiable through FBI data and media reports, conducted by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, tells a very different story:
— 56% of shootings took place wholly in private residences.
— Of the 24 incidents in public spaces, at least 11 took place wholly or in part where concealed guns could be lawfully carried.
— Just 13 of the shootings (23%) took place entirely in public spaces that were so-called “gun-free zones.”
I believe in the Second Amendment. I’m a gun owner. I have a permit to carry. I carried a weapon 24/7 when deployed overseas twice since 9/11. And when I served in Congress, I voted in 2008 to repeal Washington D.C.’s handgun ban, which I believed violated the Second Amendment because it prohibited 600,000 District residents from owning a weapon, even for the purpose of defending their home.
These views earned me an F rating from the NRA lobby. That’s right, an F. According to the NRA lobby, I was a “true enemy of gun owners’ rights.”
Manchin is showing a picture of Al Qaeda spokesperson Adam Gadahn, who instructs followers to buy assault weapons at American gun shows where people can purchase weapons without background checks. From 2004 to 2010, it’s estimated that “individuals on the terrorists watch list have been able to buy guns or explosives over 1300 times.”
A-rated and lifetime NRA member Manchin is now accusing the gun lobbying of lying about this amendment and pointing out that the organization supported background checks in the aftermath of the shooting at Columbine. “I remember when the NRA used to feel different about background checks and it wasn’t that long ago,” he said.
During a May 27, 1999 hearing, CEO Wayne LaPierre testified it was reasonable: “We think it is reasonable to provide mandatory, instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show,” LaPierre said. “No loopholes anywhere for anyone. That means closing the Hinckley loophole so the records of those adjudicated mentally ill are in the system.” Here is a copy of the ad the NRA took out in 1999 saying, “We think it’s reasonable to provide for instant checks at gun shows just like at gun stores and pawn shops”:
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) — one of the few Republicans to support expanding background checks — took to the floor to announce that she will vote for the Manchin/Toomey compromise. Collins noted that the measure “explicitly bans the federal government from creating a national firearms registry” and is a “reasonable commonsense thoughtful proposal that I can and will support.”