In the wake of the Orlando, Fla., shootings, the latest push for new gun-control laws remains frustrated. It could face a decisive test this week, when a compromise bill blending elements of Republican and Democratic proposals is expected to come up for a vote in the Senate.
Four separate gun-control bills failed in the Senate on Monday, with votes falling along partisan lines, as both sides accused each other of overt partisanship. The proposals came after multiple Democrats took part in a 15-hour filibuster to generate momentum for a vote on the issue.
The fifth bill, spearheaded by Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine, would reportedly prohibit gun sales to those who appear on either the US No Fly List – which bars people from boarding airplanes – or the "selectee list" – for people who are allowed to board only after extra screening. According to documents leaked in 2014, there were more than 47,000 people on the No Fly List as of August 2013, including 800 Americans.
The bills included a Democratic plan to require background checks for all gun sales by private sellers – including those made at gun shows and on the internet – as well as a Republican version that would have encouraged states to submit mental health records to the list of information reviewed during background checks. The other two bills both sought to block firearm sales to those on a US government terrorist watch list.
In the Republican bill, sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and backed by the National Rifle Association, a prospective gun sale to anyone whose name has appeared on the terrorist watch list within the past five years would trigger a notification sent to the US attorney general's office. The attorney general would have the power to block the sale, but it would be required to investigate and respond within 72 hours of the attempted purchase. Democrats criticized that provision as unreasonably burdensome given the size of the watch list, which in 2014 stood at 800,000 names.
The Democrats' version of that bill, sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, would have granted the attorney general's office the right to deny firearm sales without judicial review. The office would only need to have "reasonable suspicion" that the person in question posed a threat to public safety, because of a wide range of terrorism-related activities. It drew criticism from gun-rights advocates and some civil-rights groups, who opposed the use of watch lists as the basis of gun control. Senator Cornyn, meanwhile, called his version "superior" because it would allow a judge to follow up on a case and order a person's detention if probable cause existed.
The compromise bill would slim down the list of people subject to being denied gun sales, according to Senator Collins, who in an interview with NPR criticized the use of "huge," "fragmentary" and "unvetted" terrorist watch lists as a basis for denials. The watch list used as the basis for the other bills, Collins said, includes "tens of thousands" of Americans.
"By contrast, to get on the No Fly List or the Selectee list," she told the network, "there has to be credible evidence that the individual is either involved in a terrorist plot, has terrorist associates or is providing material support to terrorists."
A new CNN/ORC survey released on Monday showed a 9 percent increase in public support for tighter gun laws following the Orlando attacks. More than 90 percent said they supported expanding background checks, and 85 percent favored denying weapons to people on federal watch lists. Bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines found lesser support, with 54 percent saying they favored the proposal.