Senate Vote for Gun Violence Reform is Complicated by Filibuster

March 23, 2021 by Alexa Hornbeck
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y., speaks as Karen Gibson, the new Sergeant at Arms of the United States Senate, listens outside Schumer's office, Monday, March 22, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington. (Graeme Jennings/Pool via AP)

WASHINGTON-  The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing Tuesday on common sense gun prevention after two mass shootings occurred in Atlanta and Boulder this past week. 

Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., started the hearing with a moment of silence and a call to action.

“We are senate leaders, what are we doing? Other than reflecting and praying. It’s a good starting point, but shouldn’t be our end point,” Durbin stated. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer vowed Tuesday morning to bring to the Senate floor legislation passed by the House that would require background checks for most gun sales and transfers. He said the Senate “must confront a devastating truth” after a lack of congressional action on the issue for almost three decades.

“This Senate will be different,” said Schumer, D-N.Y. “The Senate is going to debate and address the epidemic of gun violence in this country.”

Schumer’s comments suggested a larger difficulty for Senate Democrats as they try to move forward on gun legislation and other policy priorities of the Biden White House. 

With the filibuster in place, forcing a 60-vote threshold for most legislation, House-passed bills on issues like gun control and voting rights are effectively nonstarters unless Democrats secure significant GOP support.

Rep. Veronica Escobar of El Paso, Texas, a member of the House Judiciary Committee put the situation succinctly:  “A majority of Americans support gun violence prevention, but we can’t get anything done in the Senate, because a majority doesn’t rule,” she said.

During the hearing itself, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, recalled the Grassley-Cruz legislation which targeted violent criminals and safeguards. 

The bill received substantial bipartisan support with 52 senators voting to reform gun sales and purchase rights, but like Democratic efforts at gun control, it too fell short of the 60-vote threshold.

Politics aside, much of the testimony at today’s hearing was highly personal. Gun violence survivors and medical doctors testified about the depth of the gun crisis in local communities.

Afterward, Schumer vowed to move forward with the gun legislation passed last week in the House.

“The legislative graveyard is over. H.R. 8 will be on the floor of the Senate and we will see where everybody stands. No more thoughts and prayers. A vote is what we need. A vote,” he said.

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