WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Senate last week set aside proposed gun legislation after failing to gather enough support for three key provisions sought by President Barack Obama in response to the December massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., hit the “pause” button on the gun bill following the failed votes. He was adamant that it would return.
“It is only a matter of time before we bring this anti-gun violence measure back to the floor for a vote,” Reid said. “I assure the 90 percent of Americans who support meaningful background checks that I am going to continue this fight.”
Obama had pressed Congress to ban on the sale of certain semi-automatic “assault” weapons, impose limits on the capacity of ammunition clips, and strengthen the national background check system for gun sales as key elements of comprehensive gun safety reforms.
In a series of roll call votes requiring 60-vote majorities for approval, the Senate rejected all three measures as parents of some of the Newtown, Conn., schoolchildren watched from the public gallery above. Four months earlier, Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook elementary school and gunned down 20 children and six adults in a five-minute span before taking his own life.
Among the three measures, proponents had considered the background check proposal negotiated by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., the most likely to succeed.
Under their proposal, the background check program that now applies to retail sales would expand to gun shows and online sales. A recent Washington Post-ABC News national poll found 86 percent support such a requirement.
Opponents said the expanded checks could lead to the creation of a government-held “gun registry” that would identify gun owners and potentially threaten their Second Amendment rights.
The National Rifle Association fought the amendment and threatened to hold it against senators. Chris Cox, executive director of NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, said it would have required “lifelong friends, neighbors and some family members to get federal government permission to exercise a fundamental right or face prosecution.”
The Senate voted 54-46 in favor, but fell six votes shy of the 60 needed for passage. Four Republicans supported the background check plan, while four Democrats opposed it. Reid also voted “no” in a procedural move that allows him to recall the amendment at a later date.
Obama called the defeat a “pretty shameful day for Washington” and blamed Republicans for kowtowing to the National Rifle Association, which opposed the measures.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, responded saying the president should not take the “low road” in vilifying opponents to the measures. There are honest differences of opinions when it comes to weighing Second Amendment gun rights and the nation’s response to mass gun violence, he said.
Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., voted for the Manchin-Toomey amendment.
The Senate also rejected a measure that would have basically reinstituted a ban on so-called “assault weapons” that expired a decade ago. The vote was 40-60.
Cantwell and Murray voted in favor of the assault weapon ban.
A proposal to limit the capacity of ammunition magazines to 10 bullets was also rejected. The vote was 46-54.
Cantwell and Murray voted for the limit.
House approves cyber security bill
Despite a veto threat, the House last week approved legislation to facilitate business and government information-sharing on cyber threats.
The House voted 288-127 for the bill. The Obama administration has threatened to veto the measure because it did not include strong enough safeguards for personal information.
“Citizens have a right to know that corporations will be held accountable — and not granted immunity — for failing to safeguard personal information adequately,” the administration stated.
Proponents of the legislation say the bill is needed to encourage private businesses to share information on cyber threats with the government.
“Cyber threats that the United States faces are real and immediate, and the key to addressing these cracks in our cyber defenses lies with bridging the gap between government and industry,” said Congressman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., agreed that Congress should shore up cybersecurity but said the proposed bill offered “overly broad protections and immunities” to businesses that threaten privacy.
“The bill does not require the private sector to minimize irrelevant personally identifiable information from what it shares with the government,” she said. “We are saying minimize what is relevant to our national security; the rest is none of the government’s business.”
Congressman Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., voted in favor of the bill. Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., opposed it.