Alaska’s Senators Fail to Block Gun Debate

Before it even gets to the new laws, the Senate needs to agree to talk about them.

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The byzantine rules of the Senate are contained in the 1600 page book Riddick’s Senate Procedure: Precedents and Practices.

One rule in particular has dictated the Senate for the past few years: cloture. Cloture allows debate to begin in the Senate, and it requires 60 votes.

Freshman Senator Brian Schatz read the tally of the cloture vote.

“On this vote the yeas are 68, the nays are 31, 3/5ths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn having voted in the affirmative, the motion is agreed to.”

And with that less-than-plain English, the Senate begins debating the first new gun measures in nearly two decades.

The core bill calls for universal background checks on gun sales, stiffening penalties for straw purchases, the practice when someone buys a gun legally for someone who can’t, and increasing school safety.

“The base bill that we were filibustering, in the sense of the cloture vote, was problematic for, what I have heard, Alaskans on a pretty regular basis,” Sen. Mark Begich said Thursday afternoon.

Senator Begich joined 28 Republicans and one fellow Democrat in filibustering to force a cloture vote.

There will be many attempted amendments, and the bill will look different weeks from now than it does today.

Two amendments are guaranteed to get votes: one regulating the size of magazines, the other an assault weapons ban.

Senator Begich said he’s talking with Majority Leader Harry Reid about allowing a vote on one of his amendments. That amendment would force states to enter people who are legally barred from owning a gun into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

“When you have 600,000 people across the country, about 2,000 in Alaska, Alaska being one of the 22 states that doesn’t put any of this information into the NICS system when someone has been deemed mentally incompetent and shouldn’t posses a firearm,” Senator Begich said.

Senator Begich said he’s had minimal contact with the state Department of Law or the state Court System about entering those 2,000 names. He talked to state legislators about the issue when they visited D.C. earlier this year.

Senator Lisa Murkowski, who has repeatedly called for regular order – that process of debate and amendments – voted against it.

In a crowded subway underneath the Capitol, she said she worries that bringing the bill to the floor would strengthen the chance of an assault weapons ban; something she calls a nonstarter.

One of the first amendments would expand background checks to gun shows and online sales, while excluding private sales.

Senator Murkowski said Alaskans “would not tolerate” background checks for person-to-person sales, but would not say whether she supports them at gun shows and online.

While the Senate has cleared a major 60 vote hurdle, more votes are in store. Each amendment will need 50 votes to pass.

Once every amendment is finalized and the final package crafted, there’s another 60 vote threshold, to end debate.

Then the Senate would vote on final passage, but nobody has any idea when that will be.

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