Sens. Portman, Brown Defend Votes on Gun Control Legislation

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On Wednesday, Senate Republicans and a small band of rural-state Democrats voted against the strictest gun control legislation in 20 years.

The legislation called for tighter background checks for buyers and a ban on assault weapons, among other provisions.

Gun control advocates, including President Barack Obama, had voiced high hopes for significant action after the Newtown, Conn., shootings. But the lineup of possible legislation gradually dwindled to a focus on background checks, and in the end even that could not win Senate passage. Chances in the Republican-controlled House had seemed even slimmer.

By agreement of Senate leaders, a 60-vote majority was required for approval of any of the provisions brought to a vote. The vote on the background check was 54-46, well short of the 60 votes needed to advance. Forty-one Republicans and five Democrats voted to reject the plan.

The proposed ban on assault weapons commanded 40 votes; the bid to block sales of high capacity ammunition clips drew 46. The NRA-backed proposal on concealed carry permits got 57.

Among the senators voting against the plan was Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who said on Thursday that he stood by his vote on the bi-partisan bill proposed by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

Portman said he voted against the bill because he does not think it would be effective in preventing the kind of “heart breaking” loss the country saw in Newtown or other tragic incidents. He also said the legislation has several provisions that would make it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to “exercise their Constitutionally guaranteed rights.”

“I do believe there are things we can and should do. Some were part of that bill, others were included in legislation that I supported yesterday,” Portman said.

He said he supported an amendment that was voted down even though it contained a lot of provisions that had good bi-partisan support. He said the amendment improves the background check system, including reauthorizing the NICS, which is the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, and requiring federal courts to report, including on felons.

Portman said his amendment increases the prosecutions of those who get firearms illegally, noting there are very few of those prosecutions now taking place. He said it also improves school safety, which he believes is an area where bi-partisan consensus can be found.

“It also improves laws against gun traffickers and straw purchasers, those who buy guns for others who are not permitted to do so,” Portman said.

He said on the mental health front, his amendment ensures those with mental illness have better access to treatment and enforces rules on background checks for those with mental illness.

“We have to address this underlying problem and that is the violence in our society, particularly the glorification of gun violence in popular culture.  I do think there is bipartisan consensus about that,” Portman said.

He said the debate on gun control would continue and more amendments would be proposed in the coming weeks.

“My concern continues to be let’s do what makes sense and what’s actually going to make a difference and let’s do it in a way that doesn’t infringe on people’s rights,” Portman said. “I will continue to look for solutions to the gun violence that is far too common in our society, but I also want to strike a balance with supporting people’s Second Amendment rights.”

However, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who voted for the legislation, said the debate is not about the Second Amendment, but about making sure society’s most dangerous people cannot go out and buy illegal weapons.

Brown said almost 90 percent of the American people agree with expanded background checks, but the senators who voted against the legislation were persuaded by special interest groups, including the National Rifle Association and other gun lobbyists.

“I think some politicians fear the gun lobby the same way they fear the wrath of the Wall Street lobby or the oil company lobby,” Brown said.

“Overwhelming public support for these expanded background checks, close to 90 percent of the public say yes, we should have expanded background checks to make sure that dangerous people do not get these weapons. In no way does this compromise the Second Amendment. People who have been strong Second Amendment supporters their whole careers, a number of them voted for this. Some didn’t because of their fear, I think, of the gun lobbies,” he said.

He said the NRA at one time supported the expanded background checks, but later turned against them. Brown said the issue will come back and pressure will continue to build on senators to stop the filibuster and pass the legislation.

“When 80, 85, 90 percent of the public supports something, you don’t give up. I think the public will continue to beat this drum and will continue to push their congressmen and senators to do the right thing,” Brown said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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