Orlando shooting prompts 15-hour filibuster over gun control
Democratic Senator Chris Murphy also spoke about the Sandy Hook shooting in his state of Connecticut
A Democratic senator who mourned the loss of 20 children in his home state of Connecticut four years ago waged a nearly 15-hour filibuster into the early hours of Thursday morning, demanding votes on gun control measures just days after a mass shooting at a Florida nightclub.
As compromise on the gun issue remained improbable, Senator Chris Murphy stood on the Senate floor for most of Wednesday and into Thursday, saying he would remain there "until we get some signal, some sign that we can come together."
He yielded the floor at 2:11 a.m., saying he had won commitments from Republican leaders that they would hold votes on amendments to expand background checks and ban gun sales to suspected terrorists. It is unlikely that those amendments will pass.
Murphy spent much of the time speaking about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012. He finished his filibuster by talking at length about one of the young boys who died there.
After Murphy had been standing on the floor for more than nine hours, his own young sons, ages four and seven, briefly appeared in the Senate gallery.
"I hope you'll understand someday why we're doing this," Murphy said, addressing his oldest son from the floor. "Trying and trying and trying to do the right thing is ultimately just as important as getting the outcome in the end."
Democrats revived the gun debate after 49 people were killed at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., early Sunday, the deadliest mass killing by a single shooter in U.S. history.
Rights vs. restrictions
The fight pits strong proponents of the Second Amendment right to bear arms against those arguing for greater restrictions on the ability to obtain weapons.
Murphy's call for the two votes came as presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said he would meet with the National Rifle Association to discuss ways to block people on terrorism watch lists or no-fly lists from buying guns.
The same day, Trump told a rally in Georgia: "I'm going to save your Second Amendment."
Murphy was joined by more than 30 Democratic colleagues on the floor, many of whom angrily told stories of mass shootings in their own states and called for action.
"The next time someone uses a gun to kill one of us, a gun that we could have kept out of the hands of a terrorist, then members of this Congress will have blood on our hands," said Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Talks neared collapse
Attempts at compromise appeared to collapse within hours of surfacing Wednesday, underscoring the extreme difficulty of resolving the divisive issue five months from November's election.
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein who had been involved in talks with Republican Senator John Cornyn said there was no resolution.
Murphy, 42, began speaking at 11:21 a.m., and showed few signs of fatigue when the filibuster ended. By Senate rules, he had to stand at his desk the entire time to maintain control of the floor.
Tourists and staff filled the galleries past midnight, and Democratic senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Cory Booker of New Jersey stayed with Murphy on the floor for most of the debate. Like Murphy, Booker did not sit down for the full 15 hours.
It's been nearly a decade since Congress made any significant changes to federal gun laws. In April 2007, Congress passed a law to strengthen the instant background check system after a gunman at Virginia Tech who killed 32 people was able to purchase his weapons because his mental health history was not in the instant background check database.
Ban for suspected terrorists
Murphy is seeking a vote on legislation from Feinstein that would let the government bar sales of guns and explosives to people it suspects of being terrorists. Feinstein offered a similar version of the amendment in December, a day after an extremist couple killed 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif., but the Republican-run Senate rejected the proposal on a near party-line vote.
The Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, was added to a government watch list of individuals known or suspected of being involved in terrorist activities in 2013, when he was investigated for inflammatory statements to co-workers. But he was pulled from that database when the investigation was closed 10 months later.
In a statement, the NRA reiterated its support for an alternate bill from Cornyn that would let the government delay firearms sales to suspected terrorists for up to 72 hours. Prosecutors would have to persuade a judge to block the transaction permanently, a bar Democrats and gun control activists say is too high.
Cornyn and other Republicans argue that Feinstein's bill would deny due process to people who may be on the terror list erroneously.
In an attempt at compromise, Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey introduced legislation that would direct the attorney general to create a new list of suspected terrorists who could be barred from buying weapons. But Democrats immediately rejected that idea, saying it would create too much of a backlog.