A marathon Democratic filibuster in the wake of the Orlando nightclub massacre came to an end in the US Senate on Thursday morning after Republicans apparently agreed to hold votes on tighter gun control measures.
Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, led the filibuster which lasted for more than 14 hours along with several colleagues. In the early hours of Thursday morning in Washington, Murphy said a deal had been struck with Republican leaders to hold votes on key measures.
Murphy yielded the floor at 2.11am, saying he had won commitments from Republican leaders that they would hold votes on amendments to expand background checks and ban gun sales to suspected terrorists.
The Connecticut senator had promised at the outset that he would remain on the Senate floor “until we get some signal, some sign that we can come together” on gun control.
As the filibuster continued, updates and messages of support were posted on social media with the hashtags #enough and #holdthefloor.
Murphy evoked the Newtown school shooting in his state in 2012 in a plea that came as the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, said he would meet with the National Rifle Association (NRA) about the terror watchlist and gun purchases.
“For those of us that represent Connecticut, the failure of this body to do anything, anything at all in the face of that continued slaughter isn’t just painful to us, it’s unconscionable,” Murphy said.
“There hasn’t been a debate scheduled on the floor of the Senate,” Murphy said as the filibuster neared an end. “There hasn’t been a debate scheduled in the committees … There are 30,000 people dying” annually in the country, he said.
Murphy called the massive shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando “devastating” for many and said it had been frustrating for people to watch as the Senate “has done absolutely nothing” in response to mass shootings in recent years.
Starting around 11.20am on Wednesday, senator after senator took to the floor of the chamber to argue for legislation. The Wisconsin senator Tammy Baldwin cited a list of multiple homicides in her state in recent years.
Murphy began speaking at 11.21am and was still standing more than 10 hours later, showing few signs of fatigue. By Senate rules he had to stand at his desk to maintain control of the floor. When asked by another senator how he was feeling just before 7.30pm, Murphy said rehabilitation from a back injury in his 20s had helped him build up endurance.
As tourists and staff – and at one point in the evening, Murphy’s two sons – looked on from the galleries, the senator maintained his filibuster to a mostly empty chamber, save a series of Democratic senators who joined him and made their own speeches through the day. Democrats Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Cory Booker of New Jersey stayed with Murphy on the floor for most of the debate.
The election-year fight over gun control in the wake of the shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando pits strong proponents of the second amendment right to bear arms against those arguing for greater restrictions on the ability to obtain weapons. Trump, who has the endorsement of the NRA, told a rally in Georgia: “I’m going to save your second amendment.”
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.
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. Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, offered a similar version of the amendment in December, a day after an extremist couple killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California, but the Republican-run Senate rejected the proposal on a near party-line vote. Murphy also wants a vote to expand background checks.
The Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, was added to a government watchlist 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 the database when that investigation was closed 10 months later.
The NRA said it was happy to meet Trump and reiterated its support for a bill from the Texas Republican senator John Cornyn 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.
Cornyn and other Republicans argue that Feinstein’s bill denies due process to people who may be on the terror list erroneously and are trying to exercise their constitutional right to gun ownership.
Separately, Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control group backed by the former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, said it was working on a compromise with the Pennsylvania senator Patrick Toomey, a Republican in a tough re-election race this year who has sought compromise in the past on gun control measures.
By the end of the day, Toomey had introduced legislation that would direct the attorney general to create a new list of suspected terrorists who could be barred from buying weapons. But Democrats immediately rejected that idea, saying it would create too much of a backlog.
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