“We were doing everything we could to lessen the chances of someone coming into possession of a weapon and slaughtering people,” Shailagh Murray, who was then Biden’s deputy chief of staff, told the Washington Post this week. “It was probably the most substantive exercise that we undertook in the office the whole time I was there, and people from all over the government participated.”
On Capitol Hill, two gun-owning senators — Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania — teamed up for a bill that modestly tightened laws by expanding background checks for sales online and at gun shows. But there was also a vote on whether to bring back the ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Ultimately, though, both bills failed to overcome the 60-vote filibuster threshold in the Senate and faced fierce resistance from the National Rifle Association.
“This was a pretty shameful day for Washington,” Obama said after the bills were defeated.
Four Republican senators voted in favor of the Manchin–Toomey bill, which failed 54–46: John McCain of Arizona, Mark Steven Kirk of Illinois, Susan Collins of Maine, and Toomey himself. Four Democrats voted against it: Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Max Baucus of Montana, and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. (Harry Reid, then the Senate majority leader, switched his vote to “no “for procedural reasons.) Of those lawmakers, only Toomey and Collins remain in Congress, although Toomey has announced he won’t seek another term.
The renewed call to ban assault weapons ban sank at an even steeper rate of 40 votes in favor, 60 against.
The only Republican to vote in favor was Kirk of Illinois. Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Jon Tester of Montana, Mark Udall of Colorado, Tom Udall of New Mexico, Mark Warner of Virginia, and Manchin of West Virginia all joined the other four Democrats who voted “no” against the other bill in declining to bring back the assault weapons ban. Of these senators, only Bennet, Heinrich, Tester, Warner, and Manchin remain in office.
Heinrich, Warner, and Bennet have all since switched positions to support the ban.
Manchin has said as recently as this week that he opposes eliminating the filibuster to pass any gun control legislation, although he has also said that talks feel different now. “I’ve never been in this frame of mind,” he said. “I can’t get my grandchildren out of my mind.”
As mass shootings struck schools, churches, cinemas, and supermarkets in the years since, many other legislative efforts have continued to come up short. Even on Thursday, Republicans successfully filibustered legislation intended to combat domestic terrorism.
But as parents and families mourned this week in Uvalde, two people who had intimate knowledge of their pain spoke out.