WASHINGTON, D.C. — Led by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), dozens of senators filibustered for hours Wednesday in an attempt to force the Senate to take action on gun violence.
Murphy ended his nearly 14-hour filibuster shortly after 2 a.m. EDT Thursday.
Democrats aided their colleague with their own speeches throughout the day.
One of the speakers was Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who talked about “mass shootings happening like clockwork.”
“Those who’ve argued that the only possible response to the shooting in Orlando can come in a war zone thousands of miles away are looking for excuses not to do something,” said Wyden. “Not to do something meaningful here at home.”
Sen. Wyden’s colleague, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), also aided Murphy in his filibuster.
“That common thread that runs through Connecticut and Oregon is that our two states have been the sites of two very deadly school shootings,” said Merkley.
Sen. Murphy said he would remain on the Senate floor “until we get some signal, some sign that we can come together,” as he also evoked the Newtown school shooting in his state in 2012. His plea came as presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said he would meet with the National Rifle Association about the terror watch list and gun purchases.
“For those of us that represent Connecticut, the failure of this body to do anything, anything at all in the face of that continued slaughter isn’t just painful to us, it’s unconscionable,” Murphy said.
Twenty children and six educators died in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012. Murphy, 42 and the father of two young boys, said he cannot look into the eyes of those children’s relatives and tell them that Congress has done nothing since.
The election-year fight over gun control pits strong proponents of the Second Amendment right to bear arms against those arguing for greater restrictions on the ability to obtain weapons. Trump, who has the endorsement of the NRA, told a rally in Georgia, “I’m going to save your Second Amendment.”
Since the Sunday morning shooting in Orlando, Democrats have revived their push for gun control legislation.
Attempts at compromise appeared to collapse within hours of surfacing in the Senate Wednesday, underscoring the extreme difficulty of resolving the divisive issue five months to the election. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who had been involved in talks with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said there was no resolution.
“The NRA to the best of my knowledge has been a major impediment to sound gun control efforts in this country in the nearly 24 years I’ve been here,” she told reporters.
It’s been nearly a decade since Congress made any significant changes to federal gun laws. In April 2007, Congress passed a law to strengthen the instant background check system after a gunman at Virginia Tech was able to purchase his weapons because his mental health history was not in the instant background check database. Thirty-two people died in the shooting.
Murphy began speaking at 11:21 a.m. By Senate rules, he had to stand at his desk to maintain control of the floor. When asked by another senator how he was feeling just before 7:30 p.m., Murphy said rehabilitation from a back injury in his 20s had helped him build up endurance.
As tourists and staff and at one point in the evening, Murphy’s two sons looked on from the galleries, the senator maintained his filibuster to a mostly empty chamber, save a series of Democratic senators who joined him and made their own speeches through the day. Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Cory Booker of New Jersey stayed with Murphy on the floor for most of the debate.
For those following from afar, Democrats gave updates on Twitter using hashtag “#enough.”
Murphy is seeking a vote on legislation from Feinstein that would let the government bar sales of guns and explosives to people it suspects of being terrorists. Feinstein offered the amendment in December, a day after an extremist couple killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California, but the Republican-run Senate rejected the proposal on a near party-line vote. Murphy also wants a vote to expand background checks.
The Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, was added to a government watch list of individuals known or suspected of being involved in terrorist activities in 2013, when he was investigated for inflammatory statements to co-workers. But he was pulled from that database when that investigation was closed 10 months later.
Trump said he would meet with the NRA to discuss ways to block people on terrorism watch lists or no-fly lists from buying guns. That wouldn’t have blocked Mateen from buying a gun, however, since he’d been pulled from the watch list.
In a statement, the NRA said it was happy to meet with Trump and reiterated its support for Cornyn’s bill that would let the government delay firearms sales to suspected terrorists for up to 72 hours. Prosecutors would have to persuade a judge to block the transaction permanently, a bar Democrats and gun control activists say is too high.
Cornyn and other Republicans argue that Feinstein’s bill denies due process to people who may be on the terror list erroneously and are trying to exercise their constitutional right to gun ownership.
Cornyn said Murphy’s filibuster is “just filling dead air” while senators negotiate.
Separately, Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control group backed by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said it was working on a compromise with Pennsylvania Sen. Patrick Toomey, a Republican in a tough re-election race this year who has sought compromise in the past on gun control measures.
By the end of the day, Toomey had introduced legislation that would direct the attorney general to create a new list of suspected terrorists who could be barred from buying weapons. But Democrats immediately rejected that idea, saying it would create too much of a backlog.