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The Senate is finally voting on gun control

More than a week after the deadliest mass shooting in the US, Congress is gearing up to vote on four gun control measures, in legislative efforts that gun regulation opponents, including the NRA, have vowed to defeat.
June 20, 2016, 3:35pm
(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

More than a week after the deadliest mass shooting in the US, Congress is gearing up to vote on four gun control measures, in legislative efforts that gun regulation opponents, including the NRA, have vowed to defeat.

In the wake of the Orlando gun massacre that left 49 dead and 53 injured, Congressional Democrats made strides in reintroducing a raft of firearm restrictions affixed to a spending bill and even staged a filibuster to get a fast vote on them. But the NRA gun lobby's ongoing influence in Congress and fervid presidential and general election campaigning this year will likely trammel most progress on gun control.

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"What we're doing with this debate on the Hill right now, it's like they're trying to stop a freight train with a piece of Kleenex," NRA president Wayne LaPierre said in an appearance on CBS's "Face the Nation".

The measures up for the vote on Monday include a bill put forward by Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut to expand background checks for prospective gun buyers. Murphy staged a 15-hour filibuster Wednesday to bolster support for action on the firearm restrictions after the Orlando shooting.

Another Senate vote will center on Democratic California Senator Dianne Feinstein's legislation that would ban firearm sales to anyone who has appeared on a terrorism watch list, including those on the government's no-fly list.

Related: Senate Democrats Are Pushing For Gun Control Laws, Again

The Orlando gunman Omar Mateen, who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State during the massacre, had previously been on a terror watch list for comments he made to colleagues at work and his association with an American who became a suicide bomber in Syria. The FBI monitored him for 10 months before dropping its surveillance because of lack of evidence.

Feinstein had previously introduced the same bill in December, shortly after the San Bernardino massacre in her state that left 14 dead, but Senate Republicans, including four that ran for president in 2016, rejected the bill in a 54-45 vote along party lines that same month.

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On Monday, Republican Senator John Corbyn of Texas is looking to pass a diluted version of Feinstein's measure, proposing that gun sales to suspected or known terrorists only be delayed for 72 hours. For the sale to be blocked permanently, the government would have to go to court and show probable cause under the proposal.

Meanwhile, Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa is pushing for more funding to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and to put in place measures that would define language on mental health that could stop someone from purchasing a firearm, although Democrats claim it could have the opposite effect. The amendment also proposes measures to ensure law enforcement is notified of anyone who tries to buy a gun that has been under investigation in the last five years.

Although recent polls show that a majority of Americans agree with implementing gun control measures in some form, such as expanded background checks, inaction is largely rooted in Congress's inability to disentangle itself from the powerful NRA and its funding. On Monday, the legislation proposed by the Democrats is likely to be shot down by Senate Republicans and vice versa.

In the CBS interview LaPierre deflected blame for the Orlando massacre from firearms to terrorism and the Obama administration's "failures" on foreign policy. He also said that gun control laws were useless against terrorists or gunmen bent on executing their plans.

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"Laws didn't stop them in Boston. Laws didn't stop them in San Bernardino, where you had every type of gun control law that you could have," he said. "And they didn't stop them in Paris, where people can't even own guns."

Related: Senate Democrats are filibustering right now for gun control reform

Also on Monday, the families of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in Connecticut will return to court in their case against the maker of the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle used in the massacre.

Gun control has taken on particular resonance in the 2016 US elections, particularly in the Democratic primary race, pitting presumptive party nominee Hillary Clinton, who has a firm stance against guns, with progressive challenger Bernie Sanders, who initially defended legislation that would shield small-time gun manufacturers from liability and lawsuits.

The NRA in May endorsed Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump, who claims to "always carry a gun," and has especially backed the billionaire businessman's ambiguous plans to target terrorism and especially the militant Islamic State group and its internet propaganda. But on Sunday, LaPierre broke with Trump's support of concealed carry in bars, saying he wasn't supportive of having firearms where people are drinking.

Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields