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The country has seemingly reached a pivotal moment in the debate over gun control.
Under intense pressure following the horrific Orlando terror attack – where 49 people were killed during the deadliest mass shooting in US history – senators and congressmen are proposing varying legislation aimed at stopping individuals on the FBI’s terror watch list from purchasing firearms, while Congressional Democrats staged an unprecedented demonstration on the House floor demanding action.
“Yeah, we’re watching stuff unfold,” Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a branch of Everytown for Gun Safety, told Business Insider.
“We’re watching it all unfold. We’re hoping the momentum carries through the summer and something comes out of this,” Watts said. “From [Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy’s] filibuster, to the sit-in, to lawmakers working together to craft legislation that is bipartisan. We’re very hopeful.”
But even amid the growing push to accomplish something, it still looks unlikely that reforms will pass.
Earlier this week, Maine Sen. Susan Collins put forth the first Senate proposal to stop those on the FBI’s terror watch list from having the ability to purchase firearms. The legislation, which had some bipartisan support, came after four gun-control amendments looking to get attached to a massive spending bill all failed in a Monday vote.
But instead of putting the proposal before the body of Congress for a vote to pass, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put it up for a tabling vote. It ultimately survived the procedural measure 52 to 45, but for the bill to pass, it needs 60 votes – and that alone makes it unlikely that McConnell will put it before the Senate.
“Collins supporters won,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a supporter, said following the vote. “That was their victory. It was the first time since the historic vote of Senator Feinstein dealing with assault weapons where the [National Rifle Association] had been in a situation where they can’t declare victory. They lost this one.”
- Associated Press/Evan Vucci
The NRA – in addition to the American Civil Liberties Union – opposes Collins bill.
“No one wants terrorists to have legal or illegal access to firearms,” Chris Cox, executive director of NRA, said in a statement. “Keeping guns from terrorists while protecting the due process rights of law-abiding citizens are not mutually exclusive. Unfortunately, Sen. Collins and others are focusing their efforts on unconstitutional proposals that would not have prevented the Orlando terrorist attack. The American people want Congress to stop playing politics and pass policies that will keep them safe from terrorists.”
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In the House, the unprecedented 25-hour sit-in lead by Democrats demanding a gun-control bill, similar to one from Feinstein that failed in the Senate, made for some of the loudest noise yet. But it too appeared to not lead to much.
A visibly frustrated House Speaker Paul Ryan ripped the sit-in during his Thursday press conference, calling it a “fundraising” stunt that tossed aside the rules of decorum.
“We watched a publicity stunt, a fundraising stunt, descend an institution that many of us care a great deal about,” Ryan said, responding to a question from a reporter about what precedent the sit-in sets. “So, yeah, I think it sets a very dangerous precedent.”
Watts admitted that possibly the most significant thing to come out of the sit-in was the publicity it generated. But, she said, publicity stunts are not unique to one party in Congress.
She mentioned the many times House Republicans have voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act with full knowledge that it would never make it past President Barack Obama.
“Democrats and Republicans alike are guilty of political stunts,” she said. “But thousands of Americans have died since Paul Ryan has become speaker, and I’m glad he’s paying attention.”
Watts said that although none of the legislation proposed before Congress has passed during what’s been a seemingly intense and heavy daily push of advocacy from representatives, the past week hasn’t been a loss for gun-control advocates.
“It is so wonderful to see that we’ve finally bridged the intensity gap on this issue in the country,” she said, adding that “American people now see that this is an issue their lawmakers are willing to fight for.”
“And that, you know, it’s a sea change in gun politics,” she continued. “It’s a watershed moment for our issue. It’s absolutely going to be a wedge issue in the November election.”