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Saturday 22 October 2016

US senator in 15-hour filibuster calling for gun control after Orlando massacre

Published 16/06/2016 | 09:21

Omar Mateen's shooting spree sparked renewed bid for gun control in US.
Omar Mateen's shooting spree sparked renewed bid for gun control in US.

An American senator has forced a marathon debate in the US Senate of nearly 15 hours over gun control in the wake of the Orlando shooting.

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Senator Chris Murphy deployed the filibuster technique, designed to block proceedings, in a bit to incite a compromise on the stalled gun issue.

The Democratic spent much of the time speaking about the shooting Sandy Hook Elementary School, in his home state of Connecticut, in December 2012. He finished his filibuster by talking at length about one of the young boys who died there.

When Mr Murphy had been standing on the floor for more than nine hours, his own young sons, ages 4 and 7, briefly appeared in the Senate gallery.

"I hope you'll understand some day why we're doing this," Mr Murphy said, addressing his oldest son from the floor. "Trying and trying and trying to do the right thing is ultimately just as important as getting the outcome in the end."

Democrats have revived the gun debate after 49 people were killed at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, on Sunday, the worst such incident in modern history. The fight pits strong proponents of the Second Amendment right to bear arms against those arguing for greater restrictions on the ability to obtain weapons.

Mr Murphy's call for the two votes came as presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said he would meet with the National Rifle Association (NRA) to discuss ways to block people on terrorism watch lists or no-fly lists from buying guns.

The same day, Mr Trump told a rally in Georgia: "I'm going to save your Second Amendment."

Mr Murphy was joined by more than 30 Democratic colleagues on the floor, many of whom angrily told stories of mass shootings in their own states and called for action.

"The next time someone uses a gun to kill one of us, a gun that we could have kept out of the hands of a terrorist, then members of this Congress will have blood on our hands," said Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Kirsten Gillibrand, of New York, asked: "Where is our spine?"

Attempts at compromise appeared to collapse within hours of surfacing in the Senate on Wednesday, underscoring the extreme difficulty of resolving the divisive issue five months from November's election.

Leading Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein, who had been involved in talks with Republican Senator John Cornyn, said there was no resolution.

Mr Murphy, 42, began speaking at 11:21am, and was showing few signs of fatigue when the filibuster ended. By Senate rules, he had to stand at his desk the entire time to maintain control of the floor.

When asked by another senator how he was feeling just before 7:30 pm, Mr Murphy said rehabilitation from a back injury in his 20s had helped him build up endurance.

Tourists and staff filled the galleries past midnight, and Democratic Senators Richard Blumenthal and Cory Booker stayed with Mr Murphy on the floor for most of the debate. Like Mr Murphy, Mr Booker did not sit down for the full 15 hours.

It has been nearly a decade since Congress made any significant changes to federal gun laws.

In April 2007, Congress passed a law to strengthen the instant background check system after a gunman at Virginia Tech who killed 32 people was able to purchase his weapons because his mental health history was not in the instant background check database.

Mr Murphy is seeking a vote on legislation that would let the government bar sales of guns and explosives to people it suspects of being terrorists.

The Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, was added to a government watch list of individuals known or suspected of being involved in terrorist activities in 2013, when he was investigated for inflammatory statements to co-workers. But he was pulled from that database when that investigation was closed 10 months later.

In a statement, the NRA reiterated its support for an alternate bill that would let the government delay firearms sales to suspected terrorists for up to 72 hours. Prosecutors would have to persuade a judge to block the transaction permanently, a bar Democrats and gun control activists say is too high.

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