The Senate will debate new gun control laws and the Second Amendment for at least the next two weeks, so what should people expect in the historic debate?
The most contentious issue will be the expanded background checks proposed by a bipartisan pair of senators, Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey, who helped the gun control issue make it to the Senate floor and past a threatened GOP filibuster.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says background checks will be the first amendment to the gun control bill to face a floor debate. Expect that debate to start next Tuesday, as the filibuster’s supporters will probably use 30 hours of floor time to delay the measure.
Starting the debate on Tuesday also gives senators time to speak with constituents on the weekend and travel back to Washington.
Reid has already said he expects this to be a lengthy process.
“I have promised as open an amendment process as possible on this bill,” Reid said on Thursday. “As always, the ease of that process will depend upon the good will of all senators.”
In addition to amendments on background checks, illegal gun sales, mental health programs, and educational programs—which are the primary components of the bill—a flood of other amendments are expected to be added by senators.
Democrats will add amendments on assault weapons and high-capacity magazine sales, which are expected to fail.
Politico reports that the Republicans could propose “hundreds” of amendments that would stretch out over several weeks. In particular, Republicans are expected to bring to the floor a measure involving concealed-weapon permits.
The Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, was part of the filibuster and among the bill’s strongest opponents
“This bill is a clear overreach that will predominantly punish and harass our neighbors, friends, and family,” McConnell said on Thursday.
But it will be Reid and McConnell who will have to agree to end the debate at some point, and bring the final version of the gun bill up for a vote.
That process will also be tempered by the fact that the GOP-controlled House will need to approve the bill for it to become a law.
Expect Toomey, a conservative senator from Pennsylvania, and a group of Republicans who voted against the filibuster to be center stage next week, as the background check amendment is debated.
“The bottom line for me is this: If expanding background checks to include gun shows and Internet sales can reduce the likelihood of criminals and mentally ill people from getting guns and we can do it in a fashion that does not infringe on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens, then we should do it, and in this amendment I think we do,” Toomey said on Wednesday.
The National Rifle Association opposes the Manchin-Toomey compromise in no uncertain terms.
Also under pressure will be the 16 Republicans who opposed the filibuster, a group that includes John McCain, Kelly Ayotte, and Lindsey Graham.
In addition, expect a wave of publicity and lobbying from the NRA, conservative groups, an anti-gun group led by Michael Bloomberg, another group representing victims and survivors of the Sandy Hook shootings, and of course, President Barack Obama.
Once the Senate moves past the background check debate, others amendments will be introduced and discussed on the floor. Measures on mental health outreach and expanded education efforts are expected to have the best chance to pass.
Another amendment to expand penalties for illegal gun purchases was supported by the NRA on Wednesday, in a deal brokered by Senators Patrick Leahy and Susan Collins.
The other unknown proposed amendments will present a procedural challenge to the Senate leadership.
The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza and Paul Kane wrote on Wednesday about one scenario, where enough Democrats from southern and western states could vote on NRA-approved amendments to allow them to pass with 51 votes in the Senate.
Another could involve senators trying to maintain a “talking filibuster” at some point if time limits aren’t put in place for procedures on the floor.
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