ANCHORAGE As House Democrats staged a “sit-in” on the House floor in Washington, D.C. Wednesday, gun control measures are at the top of the minds of members of Congress.
The U.S. Senate stalled movement on four different gun control measures Monday, with all four failing to reach the 60-vote threshold needed for a debate and forwarding vote. Two of the measures were proposed by Democrats, two by Republicans.
Alaska’s two Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, both voted for two Republican-proposed measures, and against two Democratic-proposed ones.
Channel 2 News heard from both senators Tuesday on why they cast their votes the way they did.
Sen. Murkowski said in a phone interview that she shares the views and opinions of all senators on both sides of the aisle -- that Americans should be safe and guns should be kept out of the hands of terrorists, criminals and the mentally unstable, but that “any solution that we come up with shouldn’t compromise the rights of a law-abiding citizen.”
A statement from Sen. Sullivan’s spokesperson Mike Anderson said Sullivan will fight for Alaskans’ and Americans' rights to bear arms.
"Hate killed our fellow citizens in Florida, specifically a hate-filled ideology that is intent on destroying all that is good about our country – our diversity, our freedom and our Constitution," Anderson stated, describing Sullivan's position. "To use this horrific act of terrorism as an excuse to weaken any of these things that make us Americans is nothing less than a travesty.”
The broadest of the reforms proposed in the Senate Monday was drafted by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., which would have authorized the U.S. Attorney General to deny firearm sales to known or suspected terrorists. It’s the same proposal Feinstein offered up last year after a shooting in San Bernardino by a husband-wife team who killed 14 people at a county health department holiday party. The couple was found to have ties to extreme Islamism after investigation.
Feinstein’s bill failed to move forward with a 47-53 vote.
Murkowski explained her “no” vote on Feinstein’s measure as a matter of due process. Murkowski says the list referred to in Feinstein’s proposal has between 800,000 and one-million names on it (the exact number is debated, she says).
“What you have is potentially a very high percentage of false positives,” Murkowski said. She says people have ended up on the list for reasons like having a similar name to someone who is a terrorist.
Sen. Sullivan said the list is too inaccurate, and is by its nature confidential. In a statement to Channel 2, Sullivan’s spokesperson Mike Anderson said, “Americans can be put on it by a belligerent co-worker, a disgruntled employee, or a former friend. They can’t know if they are on it, or know how, or if to get off of it.”
He continued that FBI Director James Comey in 2015 testified that the proposal, “could ‘blow’ pending investigations by alerting the individual when he or she is denied a gun.”
A proposal by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas added in a three-day waiting period, during which a judge would rule on whether probable cause exists to deny the purchase. Both of Alaska’s senators supported the measure, with Sullivan’s office calling it a “common sense alternative.”
The bill failed to move forward with a tally of 53 in favor and 47 opposed.
When asked whether the three-day waiting period would be enough time to get information to a judge and make an informed decision, Murkowski said that though she supported the amendment, “that’s a fair criticism.”
She said the most important part of the bill was due process to a law-abiding citizen who may be on the list by mistake.
An amendment proposed by Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., proposed to expand background checks to all firearm transactions, with very few exceptions. The vote to forward the bill failed 44-56. Sixty votes are required to get a bill to debate.
Murkowski pointed to the very few exceptions where a background check would not be required in a transaction. She says that under the bill, the Orlando shooter, who was a private security officer, could still have obtained a gun without a background check through his employer.
Sullivan’s statement did not directly address the Murphy amendment.
Alaska’s senators also supported an amendment proposed by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, that would have increased funding for the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) by encouraging speedy reporting of information to the list, Murkowski said.
“It’s really about making sure that the laws that we have on the books, the background checks that we require under the law now, (making sure) that they all work.”
Grassley’s amendment stalled with a 53-47 vote.
When asked Tuesday what other issues outside of terrorism needed to be addressed in gun reforms, Murkowski said that mental health issues weren’t addressed in the four amendments addressed on Monday, but that the Senate had forwarded bills addressing that in the past year,
“But we did not include it in this debate. I think it has to be part of the debate,” she said.
Murkowski said that though the Orlando shooter, whom she described as a “homegrown terrorist,” professed his allegiance to a terrorist organization and does seem to have been radicalized, “based on some of the other accounts that we have had, this is not a stable man. This is an angry, volatile individual, and you have a host of things coming together.”
Sullivan’s spokesperson, Anderson, emphasized that hate was the root of the issue. “This issue is not about guns or a watch list – which the killer wasn’t on at the time of the horrific murders. The issue is about individuals and groups that so deeply hate our citizens and what we stand for, that they will use any and all means at their disposal to try to destroy us.”
Sullivan, in his Monday video statement, urged action to defeat ISIS overseas, “To make sure that they are not viewed as some sort of winning team that can inspire terrorists from America to do these kind of heinous acts.”
Both senators said they had received calls from Alaskans urging them to vote on both sides of the issue. Murkowski said the informal discussions she had with her office staff were that Alaskans were split about 50/50 on the issue, with commentary ranging from both ends of the spectrum on banning all guns or not restricting any access, to callers with requests to support or deny specific bills.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, proposed a bill Tuesday that is aimed at receiving support from both sides of the Senate.
Thursday, Murkowski said she was still vetting the bill and had yet to pass judgement on whether she would support it. Sullivan’s office said the same Wednesday morning.
The bill would deny suspected terrorists guns, but narrows the list that it comes from to two specific lists, one of which is the “No Fly” list that prevents suspected terrorists from boarding an airplane. It also outlines an appeal process, and allows a “lookback” provision, that would notify authorities if anyone who had been investigated for terrorism, or who had been on one of the watch lists in the past five years, had bought a firearm.
A vote date has not yet been set for that bill.