Skip to content

Will Gun Votes Yield Politics — Or Progress?

Vulnerable Republicans will hear about the issue on the campaign trail

Senate votes on the floor
Senate votes on the floor

The votes were not even cast on the Senate floor Monday when the politicking began.  

In the contentious Pennsylvania race , Democratic candidate Katie McGinty pounded the state’s Republican senator, Patrick J. Toomey, on his lack of support for measure banning people on federal terror watch lists from buying guns.  

Ted Strickland, Ohio’s former governor and current Democratic contender for Senate, started taking swipes at Republican Sen. Rob Portman last week.  

As the Senate took four consecutive votes Monday to block amendments that would have created tougher gun laws, Democrats vowed to take their case to the voters.  


Senate Rejects All Four Gun Measures


“We’re going into an election season,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, who sponsored one of the no-fly list amendments. “And Mr. and Mrs. America, you have to stand up…. Maybe, just maybe, this next election will produce something.”   

Complicating that campaign messaging though, was the decision of the Democrat’s campaign chief, Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, to vote against a background check measure the party leaders were pushing. Tester told Roll Call leaving the Capitol that “there’s a number of things” that made him uneasy about the amendment.  

Sen. John Cornyn, the Texas Republican who submitted a less restrictive amendment, said gun violence won’t be the single factor to decide election results.  “I think it will be one of many,” he said.  

Orlando Shooter Transcript Released 


After the June 12 mass shooting in Orlando, which left 49 dead at the hands of a man pledging allegiance to the Islamic State , the public outcry has grown for keeping terrorists from buying guns. More than eight out of 10 voters want to keep people suspected of terrorist activities or associations from buying guns, one earlier poll shows.  

The Democrats submitted a plan to ban such purchase, allowing an appeals process to show why buyers should have a gun; Republicans wanted a three-day waiting period during which the federal government would have to prove that the buyer shouldn’t have a gun.  

With senators voting largely along party line, neither measure received the 60 votes needed for approval. A pair of amendments expanding background checks for gun purchases met a similar fate.  

Filibusters Make Careers, Not Laws 


Some Republicans are holding out hope for a compromise bill that Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, plans to introduce Tuesday. Her measure would narrow the number of people on terror watch list affected by a gun purchasing ban.  

“I think there is a consensus, based on these votes, that you know, we should stop terrorists or suspected terrorists from being able to get a gun, and that we should have a due process to keep people from being on a list that they’re not properly on,” Portman said.  

The Ohio Republican is one of several GOP senators facing tough re-election bids in November who are trying to navigate the challenge politics of gun legislation.  

Pennsylvania’s Toomey has championed a compromise measure on background checks working with West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III. The measure was not considered this time, and Toomey voted with his Republican colleagues. Before the vote, he expressed disappointment that there wasn’t more of a bipartisan option.  


Will Firearms Filibuster Bring Progress?


McGinty, his Democratic opponent, made clear she intended to make the gun votes an issue through November, largely discounting Toomey’s previous bill.  

“I for one will most certainly continue to put a spotlight on this critical issue that we can, we should, we must act on,” McGinty said earlier in the day.  

Sen. Marco Rubio, who is deciding whether to run again for his Florida seat, could also face criticism for his votes. A potential Democratic challenger was quick to hit on Rubio’s opposition to the Feinstein measure.  

“After the devastating attack in Orlando, Floridians are crying out for commonsense reforms to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists,” Rep. Patrick Murphy said in a statement. “Tonight, Marco Rubio put his political ambition ahead of keeping Floridians safe.”  

A poll conducted last week in Florida suggests that votes on gun measures could have an impact on election results. When voters were told that Sen. Marco Rubio opposes such legislation, his support fell in a possible matchup with Murphy.  

Another vulnerable Republican incumbent , Sen. Mark S. Kirk, R-Ill., voted for the Democratic proposal advanced by Feinstein.  

“I’m disappointed we could not advance Feinstein/Kirk legislation to keep weapons of out of the hands of suspected terrorists or bipartisan bills to finally close the gun show loophole and to stop the gun trafficking and straw purchasing that fuels Chicago gangs,” he said after the votes.  

Kirk and New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte ended up voting for both the Democratic and the GOP proposals.  

“This is a gravely serious issue that requires a serious response. There is a solution here and I’m committed to finding it,” Ayotte said, also voicing support for Collins’ compromise.  


Democrats Target Vulnerable Senate Republicans Over Party Loyalty


Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., ridiculed Ayotte’s approach, calling her a hypocrite. “The junior senator from New Hampshire says she’s voting yes on everything,” Reid said. “That’s not logical but that’s what she’s doing.”  

Reid did not dismiss the Collins talks out of hand, even as some Democrats were beginning to express concerns about the reported broad outlines of the proposal.  

“First of all, I think that Susan Collins is a serious legislator. But you know what’s interesting? I don’t know if any of my colleagues have even seen this. Maybe some have, but I haven’t,” Reid said.  

Reid cautioned that even if Democrats decided to support the Collins proposal, she’ll need significant Republican support to pass it.  

“She’s out there alone all the time,” Reid said.  

Contact Lesniewski at and follow him on Twitter @nielslesniewski .  


Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.

Recent Stories

Menendez rejects New Jersey Democrats’ calls to resign after indictment

Photos of the week ending September 22, 2023

Dressing down — Congressional Hits and Misses

Menendez indictment comes with Democrats playing 2024 defense

Sen. Bob Menendez and wife indicted on federal bribery charges

Hill worries mount about delays in arming Ukraine