After filibustering for 15 hours last week, Senate Democrats finally got what they wanted Monday evening: a vote on measures designed to curb gun violence in America. And, as anticipated, the Republican-controlled Senate voted down all four pieces of legislation imposing limits on gun sales.
Americans have come to expect exactly this sort of legislative stalemate in the aftermath of high-profile shootings. Real change on guns remains elusive for a host of reasons, both cultural and political — but arguably one of the biggest is that gun-rights advocates have in recent years, especially after mass shootings, poured much more money into the campaign coffers of politicians who are aligned with their agenda than gun-control advocates have.
Each of the measures voted on Monday was proposed as an amendment to a larger spending bill for the Commerce and Justice departments. Two were suggested by Democrats: Chris Murphy of Connecticut put forth a provision that would have expanded background checks for all gun sales, and Dianne Feinstein of California proposed one that would prevent anyone who had been on the federal terror watch list in the past five years from purchasing a firearm. The two others were backed by Republicans: John Cornyn of Texas floated a proposal that would have notified the government if anyone on the terror watch list attempted to purchase a gun — but the onus would be on the government to argue in court why that person shouldn’t be allowed to have a firearm — while a measure proposed by Chuck Grassley of Iowa would have expanded funding for the federal background check system. (Critics argued Grassley’s measure would actually relax current restrictions on mentally ill individuals’ access to guns.)
Votes on all four amendments fell down party lines, with a handful of exceptions. For instance, Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota voted against both Democratic proposals, while Democrat Joe Donnelly of Indiana voted for both Republican proposals. Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia voted against Murphy’s background check amendment and for Cornyn’s. Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois voted for both Democratic amendments, and against both Republican ones.
A factor that may offer some insight into why those senators voted the way they did is their relationship with the gun lobby — and one indicator of that is political donations: Heitkamp and Donnelly each received $2,000 from gun-rights groups this cycle, while Manchin got $1,000. (Donnelly, for what it’s worth, voted in favor of all four measures on Monday.) Kirk has not accepted any money from the NRA since he was elected to his seat in 2010, making him an outlier among Senate Republicans. (New Mexico’s Martin Heinrich is an exception to this rule. Heinrich, the only Democrat besides Heitkamp, Donnelly and Manchin to receive money from gun-rights groups — not to mention the most money of all of them, $2,250 this cycle — voted in favor of both Murphy and Feinstein’s amendments.)