Washington Digest — Senate clears way for debate on new gun controls

WASHINGTON — The Senate agreed last week to begin debating gun safety legislation, clearing the way for votes on a range of new controls in the wake of the latest mass shooting last December in Connecticut.

Senators voted 68-31 to proceed to debate, overcoming a filibuster threatened by 14 Republicans who said a bill being considered would threaten the Second Amendment rights of gun owners and prospective purchasers without doing much to limit violence.

“The country deserves a debate about the meaning and the purpose of the Second Amendment,” Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, told The Salt Lake Tribune. “They also deserve to make sure that legislation that threatens to restrict the rights of law-abiding Americans significantly while doing little or nothing to actually prevent violent crime ought not be hurried through the Senate and rubber-stamped through a series of backroom deals.”

The vote, on a procedural motion, does not guarantee passage of any new laws. But it opened the way for debate over the next few weeks on amendments that would ban military-style assault rifles, limit ammunition clips, expand background checks for gun buyers and limit gun access for people declared mentally ill.

“As the deliberative body, let’s move forward with an open debate and give Americans an opportunity to better understand where their representatives in Washington stand on this issue,” said Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.

The vote took place as families from Newtown, Conn., were brought to Washington by President Barack Obama to lobby in favor of stricter gun measures. Twenty first graders and six faculty members were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14 by an intruder wielding an assault rifle. The suspect, Adam Lanza, took his own life.

Sens. John Boozman, R-Ark., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark., voted to block debate on the bill.

Republicans rap Obama labor board

The House voted 219-209 to force the National Labor Relations Board to halt its rulings on workplace matters until the Supreme Court decides on the legality of three members appointed by President Barack Obama.

An appeals court in January ruled unconstitutional the recess appointments that were made in January 2012 while the Senate was out of session. The Obama administration has appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.

In the meantime, Republican-written bill would stop the five-member NLRB from activity that would require a three-person quorum. Though passed in the House, it is expected to be ignored in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

During debate, Republicans said the court ruling casts legal uncertainty on any NLRB rulings, and so none should be issued until the controversy is cleared. Democrats charged Obama would not have had to make recess appointments if Republicans had not filibustered his nominees.

Reps. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, Tom Cotton, R-Dardenelle and Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, voted for the bill.