Democratic Gun Control Filibuster Leaves Advocates Skeptical: "We Could Be Asking for a Lot More"

June 16, 2016


Caroline Fredrickson

president of the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy.

Senate Democrats took the chamber floor for a marathon, nearly 15-hour filibuster for stricter gun control legislation Wednesday, just days after a gunman opened fire at a gay nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 people and injuring dozens of others. Led by Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, the filibuster was the ninth longest in U.S. history. It ended early Thursday morning after Republicans agreed to hold a vote considering two gun control measures that would require universal background checks for all firearm purchases and would bar anyone on a no-fly terror watchlist from buying guns. We speak with Caroline Fredrickson, president of the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn to the gun control debate on Capitol Hill. For nearly 15 hours, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut led a filibuster calling for stricter gun control in the wake of the Orlando massacre that left 49 people dead. Murphy began the filibuster at 11:21 Eastern time in the morning on Wednesday. He kept the filibuster going until 2:11 this morning, saying Republicans have agreed to hold votes on measures to expand background checks and prevent people on U.S. terror watchlists from buying guns. Murphy accused the Republican-led Senate of failing to address the nation’s gun epidemic.

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY: I think the people notice when we remain silent. I know it’s unintentional, but it almost seems to some people as if we don’t care about what happens, when we don’t try to do anything about it. And I understand that we have deep disagreements here about how to proceed, but with the—but with the exception of one week in 2013, we have not brought a debate to this floor in which we try to hash out our differences. Republican leadership didn’t announce in the wake of Orlando that we were going to spend this week working on trying to enact measures to make sure that another mass shooting doesn’t happen. And there’s a fundamental disconnect with the American people when these tragedies continue to occur and we just move forward with business as usual. And so I’m going to remain on this floor until we get some signal, some sign, that we can come together on these two measures, that we can get a path forward on addressing this epidemic in a meaningful, bipartisan way.

AMY GOODMAN: On the presidential campaign trail, Hillary Clinton tweeted her support of Senator Murphy’s effort, saying, quote, "Some fights are too important to stay silent. Preventing gun violence is one of them. Stand strong @ChrisMurphyCT." Meanwhile, Donald Trump suggested in a tweet he’ll push the NRA to accept some new forms of gun control. He wrote, quote, "I will be meeting with the NRA, who has endorsed me, about not allowing people on the terrorist watch list, or the no fly list, to buy guns." Meanwhile, the cover of today’s Boston Globe features a large photo of a military-style AR-15 next to just three words: "Make It Stop."

For more, we’re joined by Caroline Fredrickson, president of the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy.

Welcome to Democracy Now! You’re in Washington, D.C., where the ninth-longest filibuster in U.S. history took place on the floor of the Senate. Can you talk about what was accomplished?

CAROLINE FREDRICKSON: Well, sure. I think, you know, it’s pretty important to recognize that the Republican leadership has been unwilling to even discuss the most limited, basic, commonsensical restrictions on access to guns. And after this historic filibuster, they have agreed to allow votes to go forward on a couple—again, a very—I mean, we could be asking for a lot more, but these are some basic measures that the Senate will move forward to a vote on. At least the American people can get these senators on the record.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about this. One of them is a "no fly, no buy." Explain what that is.

CAROLINE FREDRICKSON: Well, you know, essentially, the idea is that we have these terrorist watchlists in the United States, where the government has determined that people are perhaps terrorists or associated with terrorists, and they’re dangerous. And the no-fly list prevents them from getting on an airplane. And the no-buy list would extend that to the purchase of guns and saying, you know, as we might think another commonsense measure, that if you’re thought to be a terrorist and we won’t let you fly, we should probably not let you buy a gun.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, there’s something very interesting that happened with the Republicans yesterday on this issue. Because the Republicans have been so opposed, along with the NRA, to any kind of regulation, they find themselves, on the side of the terror watchlist, saying that there should be a way people can get off it, which is very interesting, and I think a lot of people would agree with that. You know, what happens when you’re put on this list and you have no recourse?


AMY GOODMAN: They’re calling for this now because, they’re saying, if people can’t get off it, they can’t buy guns. So explain what they’re pushing for.

CAROLINE FREDRICKSON: Well, you know, and I think all of us who care about civil liberties should want to make sure that those lists are fairly come to and that there’s a process for getting off if there’s a mistake. You know, I know the ACLU, where I used to work, has long pushed for that. So I think that’s important. But the idea is, what we need is a process that can recognize and deal with mistakes, but not put up a false effort to simply derail what the Democrats are trying to do, which is what I’m very afraid the NRA and the Republican leadership is aiming for here.


CAROLINE FREDRICKSON: Well, you know, the best way to get something off the public stage is to set up meetings and to say there’s going to be a dialogue and a discussion, and take a long time to finally reach the end, which is that you can’t get to an agreement. So I’m somewhat skeptical. But I do think the Democrats should be pushing as hard as they can. And, you know, the filibuster was an important—it’s an important tool to bring people to the table. And I think Senator Murphy was right not to back down simply because some Republicans said that they were discussing a possible compromise with Senator Feinstein. You know, at the end of the day, that compromise discussion fell apart. And so, Senator Murphy was right to keep to the floor. And I think the Democrats have to be skeptical and continue to use these tools in order to make sure that any agreement is one that actually has teeth.

AMY GOODMAN: California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein has released new statistics showing more than 90 percent of known or suspected terrorists who have attempted to buy a gun since 2004 have passed a background check and been cleared to do so. The data from the Government Accountability Office shows between 2004 and 2015, nearly 2,500 people on the watchlist applied to purchase weapons; 2,300 of them were approved. Last year, individuals on the terrorist watchlist were involved in background checks to purchase firearms 244 times; only 21 of those were denied. Caroline Fredrickson?

CAROLINE FREDRICKSON: Well, you know, I think it shows we have a problem here. I know the FBI itself is talking about better ways to raise those warning signals up. But, you know, really, I’m sorry, but if you can get on an airplane—or you can’t get on an airplane, you really should not be able to buy a gun, and you shouldn’t be able to buy an automatic weapon of the kind that was used in Orlando. We could avert that tragedy.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, talk about an assault weapons ban. What’s amazing is CBS just did a poll that said more than half the country is for an assault weapons ban. This week we did an interview with one of the leading activists from Australia. After the Tasmanian massacre 20 years ago this spring, a gun-loving country, Australia, with all the Crocodile Dundees, turned around in 10 days—in fact, the guys on the horseback, the Crocodile Dundees, all said, "You’re a wimp to need an automatic weapon to kill animals." They turned that around completely and enforced strict gun reform. And since that time, 20 years ago, there has never been a mass shooting in Australia, gun violence down 50 percent. But it seemed off the table yesterday even for the Democrats.

CAROLINE FREDRICKSON: Well, you know, it’s a real shame, because I think one of the things we need to bring to the table in the discussions about gun violence in the United States is data. And the data you just cited about the ability to prevent mass shootings by getting rid of or making it impossible for average citizens to buy such a dangerous weapon, a military-style weapon, you know, it speaks for itself. We should be gathering data like that. We should be having an actual reasonable conversation about what measures can be taken. That doesn’t deny hunters the ability to go out. As you said, you know, I think real hunters don’t want to shoot down animals with automatic machine guns. And actually, you know, we’re not talking about restricting gun—hunting rifles. But really, let’s look at what’s out there, where these mass shootings—you know, what are the weapons that are being used. And, you know, I think if people could just be reasonable and sit around a table, we could come up with some appropriate regulations that would continue to allow people to exercise their Second Amendment rights, but not enable dangerous people who want to engage in mass murder to go out and buy these guns without any restrictions.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the terror watchlist, but what about overall in society? I mean, when you have, for example, the young man in Connecticut who gunned down the 20 schoolchildren and six staff and teachers in Sandy Hook, when you have the young man who killed people at the Aurora movie theater in Colorado, these are not people who are—who would traditionally [be] put on a terror watchlist. But these are people who are extremely unstable, had various ways where people could see that they were. And also the issue of domestic violence, which was one raised on the floor of the Senate yesterday, but that so often in these cases you can trace back to a man who beat his wife or partner, as is the case with Omar Mateen, his first wife leaving him after four months.

CAROLINE FREDRICKSON: Well, Amy, you raise a good point. I think, you know, this isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer, but there are a variety of proposals that have been suggested. And, you know, even as we go back to the assault weapons ban, something that has been law in the past—we lived under that law. We lived under that law. It’s constitutional, most likely, even under this Supreme Court’s most restrictive version of the Heller decision. But so, you know, there are a lot of limits that are constitutional that we can consider, and certainly expanding background checks, enforcing them. President Obama has proposed tightening up some of the existing loopholes, that would ensure that people who are engaged in domestic violence, that would extend to people who are in—not in a married relationship, but to others, that people with serious mental illnesses and other dangerous individuals would be barred from getting a gun. I think we can all agree that makes a lot of sense.

AMY GOODMAN: And in the case of the AR-15, which is the mass shooter’s weapon of choice, whether it’s Adam Lanza in Connecticut—and, of course, that’s where Chris Murphy comes out of; he had just been elected to the Senate when the Sandy Hook massacre took place—whether it’s James Holmes in the Aurora massacre, or whether it’s Mateen here in Orlando. Ten years, more than a decade ago, the assault weapons ban was allowed to lapse. What do you think its chances are of being reinstated, with more than half the population now, according to CBS, saying they want to see it again?

CAROLINE FREDRICKSON: Well, what we need is political will. We need people to, you know, stand up to the NRA. It’s about time. They’re out of step with where the American public is on so many gun issues. And as you mentioned at the beginning, 90 percent of the American public wants stricter gun safety laws. So, I think we need somebody to say, you know, "Enough. It’s time for us to actually move forward. We’re going to protect Second Amendment rights. We’re going to ensure that hunters can have their guns. But we’re also going to ensure that dangerous people and military-style weapons are—can’t meet, that those people can’t buy those guns. Those guns are not available." And I think, you know, it’s about time, and we’ve seen way too much of this. You know, the tragedies just keep mounting.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’ll continue to cover this and see what happens, Caroline Fredrickson, president of the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy.


AMY GOODMAN: When we come back, we look at Donald Trump’s business record. A number of journalists have been delving into his business practices. Stay with us.

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