Practically no member of Congress, no matter how obedient to the National Rifle Association, wants an opponent running ads that say he or she “voted against a bill that would have stopped suspected terrorists from buying guns legally in the United States.” And that includes presumptive GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump. But next week, Republican members of the Senate will have to face votes that could open them up to that charge.
The shooting at an Orlando nightclub Sunday that killed 49 people has focused attention on lax gun laws and the lawmakers who refuse to change them. Now, when it comes to the most egregious loopholes, those politicians may be more frightened of voters than of the NRA.
Sen. Christopher Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, led a 15-hour filibuster Wednesday that concluded with leaders agreeing to allow votes on amendments proposed by both parties.
One Democratic proposal would prevent individuals who have appeared on the federal government’s terrorist watch list from buying guns, a measure that found support from 83 percent of Americans and 77 percent of Republicans in a Quinnipiac University poll in December. The GOP instead wants a law that would give the government three days to show probable cause to prevent someone on the watch list buying a gun before the sale goes through. Another Democratic proposal would expand background checks for gun buyers, a move supported by 92 percent of Republicans in a poll this week by CBS News.
The anger has been evident this week in more than just polls. The outrage against gun violence on social media is at a rolling boil, and politicians were bombarded with phone calls and missives that supported Murphy’s filibuster and demanded action. The smart restrictions proposed by the Democrats are long shots, but ones worth rooting for.
Trump is the presumptive nominee because he’s savvy about channeling the angry GOP base in a way mainstream Republican politicians can’t. He is leading the base by following its desires when he says he wants to ban people on the terrorist watch list from buying guns.
But the NRA, which has endorsed Trump, often seems to represent gun manufacturers more than its 4 million individual members. For decades, it has been absolute in its opposition to new gun regulations. In this case, it says it opposes letting terrorists buy guns, but argues that the government should be required to have enough evidence to arrest the potential terrorist in order to stop the sale. Such people, though, aren’t just on lists, they’re already in jails. The watch list is for those we suspect but cannot arrest, and it is reasonable to bar such people from buying guns. In 2014, that list included about 800,000 names, only about 16,000 of them Americans.
The amendments Murphy fought for were defeated in December after the terrorist shooting in San Bernardino, California. This time things could be different. But even if the Senate acts, the House of Representatives might balk. We just experienced the largest mass shooting in U.S. history — and a GOP standard-bearer supporting a new gun rule. So we know that anything is possible. — The editorial board