Senate to vote on first steps in gun control debate

The US Capitol Building. (Image courtesy JamesDeMers/Pixabay)

The US Capitol Building. (Image courtesy JamesDeMers/Pixabay)

The U.S. Senate will vote today whether to begin debate on a package of new gun regulations.

The bill aims to strengthen school safety and stiffen penalties for gun trafficking.

There could be amendments to establish an assault weapons ban and limit the size of magazines.

There will be one amendment that would require background checks for guns bought and sold online and at gun shows, an amendment that neither of Alaska’s senators has committed to.

Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey is no moderate. Before the Senate, he was president of the Club for Growth, a group that supports Tea Party candidates in primary campaigns against insufficiently conservative incumbents.

So gun control advocates are excited he’s a cosponsor of an amendment that would close the so-called gun show loophole.

Introducing his amendment, he put it bluntly.

“I don’t consider criminal background checks to be gun control,” Toomey said. “I think it’s just common sense.”

While he was speaking, the NRA issued a press release saying expanded background checks will not prevent the next school shooting or stop violent crime.

One of Senator Toomey’s cosponsors is West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin. Both he and Senator Toomey have A ratings from the NRA.

When Senator Manchin first ran for the Senate, he was criticized for a campaign commercial where he fired a shot through a climate change bill.

But Senator Manchin says the Newton shooting changed the debate that the country needs to strengthen the background check system.

“If you go to a gun show, you have to do a background check,” Manchin said. “All background checks have to be recorded with an FFL, a Federal Firearms Licensed Dealer, the same as you do if you go to the gun store, that would be a licensed dealer.”

“If you go online, the same.”

Senator Lisa Murkowski discussed the amendment with Senator Toomey.

She says she has concerns on how the new background checks would be implemented in rural Alaska.

“If an individual wants to buy a gun over the internet, from what I understand, the only way they’d be able to do that, is if they went to a town where this a licensed gun dealer so that dealer could do the check,” Murkowski said.

The amendment does not require background checks for private sales. If a person in a remote village wants to sell a gun to a neighbor or family member, they could still do so.

And it explicitly outlaws any national registry of firearm sales.

The vote on Thursday is not on the passage of the amendment or the bill. It’s just to begin debate. And at least 13 Republicans say they will filibuster the motion.

Senator Murkowski is noncommittal on whether she’ll join the filibuster.

Senator Mark Begich, who faces reelection next year, says he has problems with the overall package, especially a provision from New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer that would monitor every gun sold in America.

Senator Begich would not say whether he plans to join the filibuster. He says he won’t decide until he knows whether the Senate will vote on his amendment that he says would strengthen mental health reporting.

“I’m still patiently waiting to hear what they’re going to tell me on my bill,” Begich said.

Both Senators Begich and Murkowski don’t have much time to make up their minds. A vote is scheduled for 11:00 Thursday morning.

Senator Harry Reid thinks he has the requisite 60 votes needed to overcome the blockade.

He’ll need yes votes from Republicans, especially if he can’t get all the moderate Democrats.

“I don’t get all the Democrats all the time, and that’s for sure,” Reid said.

One thing is certain: Any vulnerable Senator who votes yes to debate the gun package won’t necessarily vote yes on its passage.

 

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Senate To Vote on First Steps in Gun Control Debate