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Big Story

A Senator Just Staged a Historic Filibuster for These 2 Gun Reform Proposals

chris murphy filibuster

Senator Chris Murphy in an emotional moment from his historic filibuster about gun violence. (screenshot)

For most of the day yesterday and through the early hours of this morning, Senator Chris Murphy and many of his Senate colleagues staged a dramatic filibuster--the 9th longest filibuster in US history.

Murphy--and nearly half of the Senate--spent nearly 15 hours straight standing on the Senate floor talking about one issue: gun violence.

This filibuster was a direct result of the mass shooting in Orlando, where 49 people in the LGBTQ community were killed in a nightclub. It was the deadliest mass shooting in American history.

The filibuster, like the attack itself, sparked intense emotional and heated discussion about gun rights, gun violence, and gun control in the US from all sides.

In fact, the filibuster itself was intensely emotional.

Gun rights are guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the Constitution.

But given the horrifying frequency of mass shootings and of gun-related deaths overall in America, there are frustrated and passionate screams for regulation and change.

So let's cut through the noise, and break down what is happening with a clear head.

What do the filibustering senators want?

filibuster

A filibuster is usually a prolonged speech that basically brings everything in the House or Senate to a halt. (Giphy)

Democratic senators have two specific proposals:

1. Closing the so-called "terror gap." That means not letting people on the terrorist watch list and the no-fly list get a gun license.

2. Enacting universal background checks. If you buy a gun at a licensed shop, you have to go through a background check, but you can buy guns online or at gun shows or privately without being screened.

Murphy and his supporters want these measures to be debated and voted on. Again. Both proposals have been introduced before, and both have been voted down.

They would also like to see limits on assault weapons, which were banned for about 20 years but aren't banned any longer. (They're often the weapon of choice for mass shooters.) But that's not on the table just yet.

What is the "terror gap"?

We're talking about people on the no-fly list and the terrorism watch list.

The "terror gap" proposal was introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who reintroduced the bill to prohibit suspected terrorists on the no-fly list from buying guns.

Kim's right. The terror gap refers to the loophole in US laws allowing the sale of guns to suspected terrorists. Between 2004 and 2014, more than 2,000 suspects were able to legally purchase guns because of this loophole.

The terrorist watch list is a database of close to two million people collected by the FBI. From that database, the TSA forms the no-fly list, which bars suspected terrorists from boarding a plane.

What is the opposition to closing the terror gap?

The NRA, a powerful gun-rights lobbying group, is actually against the sale of guns to terrorists:

The NRA believes that terrorists should not be allowed to purchase or possess firearms, period. Anyone on a terror watchlist who tries to buy a gun should be thoroughly investigated by the FBI and the sale delayed while the investigation is ongoing.

But what the NRA and others are concerned about is due process--making sure people's rights are protected. In the US, you can't be deprived of your life, liberty, or property without appropriate legal actions. So here's the argument: Suspected terrorists who are on the watch list and the no-fly list could be totally innocent, so they shouldn't be deprived of their rights.

Some also don't believe the federal government should be able to decide who is on the no-fly list in the first place. Often people are put on the list without warning, and why a person is put on the list can be hazy or even the result of a clerical error.

What happened last time lawmakers tried to close the terror gap?

A bill to close the terror gap was introduced in earlier in December, but it was voted down based on the argument that the government often mistakenly puts people on the list and that people who are on the list should have the chance to litigate their way off and be able to buy guns when they are taken off the list. (Note: The Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, was on the terrorist watch list, but he was taken off before he bought the guns he used in the massacre. He bought them legally.)

What does a "universal background check" mean?

A universal background check would mean requiring that everyone who buys a gun be screened.

Right now, when you go to a gun store to buy a gun they are required to check your background first. They check things like your background, drug use, and criminal history. But that isn't the case for private sales, at gun shows and online and privately. This is often referred to as the gun show loophole.

Instituting universal background checks is being proposed (again) by Senators Murphy (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

Amy Schumer, a cousin of Senator Chuck Schumer, became a gun rights activist after a shooting at a movie theater showing her movie Trainwreck. She has mocked how easy it is to buy guns.

Nearly half of all guns are currently purchased without background checks. Those guns are often hard to track, but many guns used for crimes have been traced to gun shows.

President Obama has already pushed this year to close this loophole, and introduced his own plan to stop gun violence.

What is the opposition to universal background checks?

The opposition comes from a fear that adding universal backgrounds will be a road block to gun sales and will infringe on law-abiding people's rights.

Many argue that screenings are pointless barriers both for people following the law and for criminals who will just find a way to get the guns they want illegally.

What happened last time lawmakers tried to enact universal background checks?

A similar bill that required background checks for commercial gun sales failed in 2013 in the Senate after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

So, what happens next?

The historic filibuster didn't create any new laws or policies, but it succeeded in getting the entire Senate to vote on these two proposals. And getting a ton of attention, too.

Republicans will also likely introduce their own measures.

Senator Murphy, Senator Schumer, and others who want to see more gun control intend to do all they can to #MakeItStop.

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A Senator Just Staged a Historic Filibuster for These 2 Gun Reform Proposals

Allison Hollender

Allison is originally from Fresno, California, but made her way to the beautiful Central Coast, where she is a student at UC Santa Cruz, earning a degree in both history and politics, working as a reporter for City on a Hill Press, and guzzling gallons of coffee. She is a lover of television and all things Amy Poehler. Follow her embarrassing attempts at jokes on Twitter @alleyrenee16.

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