Senate Floor Time Stymies Gun Control Efforts

No floor time scheduled for any of several measures introduced

Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., right, and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., conduct a news conference in the Capitol to introduce legislation that would prevent individuals who pose a threat from accessing guns on March 08, 2018. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Advocates and lawmakers who were hoping the recent mass shooting at a Florida high school would finally spur Congress to act have hit a familiar roadblock: the Senate floor.

While members on both sides of the aisle continue to introduce legislation on the issue and push for the chamber to consider measures that have broad bipartisan support, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has given no indication he intends to bring any bills up for a vote and instead has turned his attention to other policy areas, like federal oversight over financial institutions and online sex trafficking.

Several measures that senators are pushing — like legislation to raise the minimum age to purchase assault weapons — stand little chance of reaching the president’s desk.

Others have a more viable path. A bill from Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas and Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., that would enforce existing law related to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System currently has 54 additional sponsors and the backing of President Donald Trump.

Whether that measure comes up for a vote in the Senate, however, remains an open question.

“McConnell is not willing right now to commit, to commit to these votes,” Murphy said on Wednesday. “Republicans know the huge political jeopardy if they would refuse to have a debate on these measures.”

A spokesman for the Kentucky Republican, in response to an emailed inquiry about potential floor time for the Cornyn-Murphy bill, had no scheduling announcements to provide.

The issue is one that has plagued the gun debate for years. While advocacy efforts intensify in the days following mass shootings, the focus on the issue tends to fade as attention turns to the next pending policy crisis or, in the case of this administration, the news of the day in the White House. 

But backers are hoping this time is different. Young adults around the nation are increasing the pressure on Capitol Hill to act to historic levels — staging walkouts of high schools and mounting grassroots advocacy campaigns.

“I don’t think that the political imperative is going away. These kids are a force. There’s 400 rallies all across the country on March 24. I don’t think that the political pressure is going away this time,” Murphy said.

And senators, some of whom are facing new criticism over their ties to the National Rifle Association, are jumping at the opportunity to introduce new legislation on the issue.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., for example, has introduced bills on school safety, gun violence protection orders and the NICS program.

“You need a majority of the votes in the House, and you need a White House that’s willing to sign it. If those three things don’t happen, you do not have a law. So what we spent time trying to do is identify what can we get 60 votes for in the Senate, can pass in the House, and be signed by the president that will make a difference? That’s been our criteria,” Rubio said on Tuesday.

Blumenthal and Graham Discuss New Gun-Control Measure

Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., on Thursday touted legislation that would allow individuals to petition the courts to prevent high-risk persons from purchasing firearms — a more extreme measure than one introduced earlier this week from Rubio and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

“I don’t know what Mitch’s game plan is for dealing with this,” Graham told reporters. “I’m not going to go into my election saying I didn’t do something. To the politicians who believe they are going to be rewarded by punting on this, I think you’re making a huge mistake.”

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