A divided Senate rejected rival plans to bolster the federal background check system and moved toward blocking other proposed curbs on guns Monday, eight days after the horror of Orlando’s mass shooting intensified pressure on lawmakers to act but knotted them in election-year gridlock anyway — even over restricting firearms for terrorists.
Each party offered a proposal it said would keep terrorists from obtaining firearms and a second shoring up the existing system of background checks for gun purchases. With the Senate visitors’ galleries unusually crowded for a Monday evening, lawmakers voted 53-47 for the Republican background check plan and 44-56 for the Democratic version — both short of the 60 needed to move ahead.
The two competing measures for keeping firearms from terrorists also faced defeat along mostly party lines, with each side accusing the other of dangerous political grandstanding and inflexibility. Democrats said the GOP proposals were unacceptably weak while Republicans faulted the Democrats’ plans as overly restrictive.
The proposals’ gloomy fates underscored the pressure on each party to give little ground on the emotional gun issue going into November’s presidential and congressional elections. It also highlighted the potency of the National Rifle Association, which was urging its huge and fiercely loyal membership to lobby senators to oppose the Democratic bills.
“Republicans should be embarrassed, but they’re not,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). “Republicans need to put the lives of innocent Americans ahead of the NRA.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the Orlando shootings — in which the FBI says the American-born gunman swore allegiance to a leader of the Islamic State terrorist group — show the best way to prevent attacks by terrorists is to defeat such groups overseas.
“Look, no one wants terrorists to be able to buy guns or explosives,” McConnell said. He suggested that Democrats were using the day’s votes “as an opportunity to push a partisan agenda or craft the next 30-second campaign ad,” while Republicans wanted “real solutions.”