Senate Gun Control Bill: Anatomy Of an Epic Failure

The Senate voted Wednesday on a series of seven amendments on S. 649, the gun control bill on the Senate floor. The most important amendment proposed was a bipartisan compromise between Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Pat Toomey (R-Penn.), that would have extended existing background check rules to gun sales made online and at gun shows. The Manchin-Toomey amendment failed in the Senate in a 54-46 vote, missing the 60-vote threshold needed to pass. Subsequent key amendments offered also failed to pass. Senator Dianne Feinstein's (D-Calif.) amendment updating the 1994 semi-automatic weapons ban failed in a 40-60 vote and Senator Frank Lautenberg's (D-N.J.) amendment limiting the number of rounds in ammunition magazines failed in a 46-54 vote.

The votes on these amendments highlight the influence of the National Rifle Association (NRA) in the gun control debate. The failure of the important Manchin-Toomey amendment can be attributed largely to intensive lobbying efforts by the NRA. Even though four Republican senators broke party lines and voted in favor of the amendment, four Democratic senators from gun friendly states voted against the measure. Most notably, the announced opposition of Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and on-the-fence Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) led many other on-the-fence senators to vote against the amendment. Moreover, the NRA backed amendment offered by Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) on concealed carry permits received 57 votes. After the defeat of the amendment, Chris Cox of the NRA Institute for Legal Action released a statement, which said that expanding background checks would not have decreased gun violence and would have improperly criminalized certain transfers between honest citizens. Both President Obama and Senator Manchin have publicly criticized the NRA for spreading "misinformation" that the amendment would lead to friends, neighbors, and some family members needing federal permission to transfer ownership of firearms to one another or create a national guns registry.

After voting concluded on the seven amendments, all of which failed, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) moved to have the entire bill moved aside for later consideration. Moreover, Reid strategically voted "nay" against the Manchin-Toomey amendment to allow him to reintroduce the measure at a later date. Without the Manchin-Toomey amendment and other gun control amendments, the underlying bill would not be strong enough to garner enough support to pass the Senate. Even if the bill passed the Senate, it would face staunch opposition in the House from Republicans. For now, gun control will fade into the background as the Senate goes on to debate other important issues like immigration. However, the bill and the Manchin-Toomey amendment may come back into the fray if public opinion backlashes against the Senate’s actions today and pushes Senators to fight harder for comprehensive gun control.