The Senate voted Thursday to begin debate on anti-gun rights bills that have been championed by Democrats. Several conservative Republican Senators had been threatening to filibuster and block debate on the bills, but the effort had been undermined by moderate Republicans like Sens. Lindsey Graham and John McCain who criticized the effort. The Democrats needed 60 votes to start debate and the vote was 68-31 to begin debate.
Sixteen Republican Senators crossed the aisle to vote with Democrats on beginning debate. They were Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Richard Burr (N.C.), Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), Tom Coburn (Okla.), Susan Collins (Maine), Bob Corker (Tenn.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Dean Heller (Nev.), John Hoeven (N.D.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), John McCain (Ariz.), Pat Toomey (Pa.) and Roger Wicker (Miss.).
Two Democrats who were up for reelection in 2014 voted with Republicans. They were Sens. Mark Begich (Alaska) and Mark Pryor (Ark.). Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) missed the vote.
Just prior to the vote, Connecticut Democrat Senator Richard Blumenthal stated, “Today, let us decide that there will be no more Newtowns.’ However, what any of the bills proposed would do to prevent a tragedy like Newtown remains unclear as the weapon used was legally-owned and the fact that nothing in the proposed legislation would have prevented the tragedy has been cited as an example of the failings of these bills to adequately address gun violence.
Prior to the vote, a group of family members of Newtown victims released a statement that read,
“The senators who have vowed to filibuster this bill should be ashamed of their attempt to silence efforts to prevent the next American tragedy. Their staunch opposition to sensible gun reform is an affront to the 26 innocent children and educators who were murdered in Newtown. No one should have to experience the pain we have endured – commonsense gun laws will help spare others from the grief we live with every day.”
Adding further controversy to the fight between gun rights supporters and anti-gun rights advocates is the relentless parade of family members of the victims of Newtown by the Obama Administration. The President has been flying around family members of victims to rally support for anti-gun measures and Obama phoned them after the cloture vote.
Obama and other anti-gun rights advocates have continually used Newtown as a rallying cry for increasing gun control measures despite the fact that no anti-gun measures that are currently up for a vote would have stopped the horrific shooting, leading to many on the right to accuse the president of exploiting the grief of the family members for the advancement of a long-held political agenda.
The anti-gun debate has seen some eleventh-hour developments as it was revealed on Wednesday that Senators Pat Toomey and Joe Manchin have crafted a bipartisan amendment that would serve as a compromise. The amendment would strengthen background checks for gun shows and internet sales, but exempt many private sales and transfers. The bill could serve as a compromise to allow Senators to escape potential political fallout and vote for the Toomey-Manchin compromise to avoid having to support the tougher gun bills.
The NRA has opposed the compromise and has warned that they will be scoring the votes which is a strong threat as the NRA serves as a powerful force in Congress.
Thursday’s action is merely the beginning of what will most likely be weeks of heated debate. The Democrats will need 5 Republicans to cross the aisle and support, but only seem to have Toomey and Kirk so far. Furthermore, the Democrats have been somewhat fractured on this issue and it’s possible that more-conservative Democrats or vulnerable Democrats may break ranks and cross the aisle to side with Republicans.