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Following school shooting, GOP blocks background check bill (again)

In the wake of this week's deadly mass shooting at Oxford High School, a Senate Democrat tried to advance a background checks bill. It didn't go well.

In the wake of this week's deadly mass shooting at Oxford High School in Michigan, Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut went to the Senate floor yesterday and asked for unanimous consent on legislation to expand background checks.

"I want to tell you why I'm making this request," the senator said on the chamber floor. "I understand the low likelihood of success, but I hope many of my colleagues took a minute to watch the cellphone video from the school shooting in Michigan." He added that the footage was "absolutely terrifying to watch."

As The Hill reported, his appeal didn't work.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Thursday blocked a request to proceed to legislation passed by the House in March to expand background checks for gun sales, a priority that has languished in Congress for years.

Murphy's effort focused on a bill called the Bipartisan Background Checks Act (H.R. 8), which would require background checks on practically all firearm purchases. There are limited exceptions — gifts from relatives, for example — but this is a popular proposal that's been stuck in Congress for many years.

It will remain stuck: The bill passed the Democratic-led House in March, with eight Republicans breaking ranks and supporting the legislation, but to advance in the Senate, it would need to overcome a GOP filibuster. No one believes that's realistic given the state of the minority party.

Also of interest yesterday was the Senate Republican who happened to be on the floor to object to Murphy's effort: Iowa's Chuck Grassley happens to be the senator who sponsored the measure a few years ago to make it easier for the mentally impaired to buy guns.

Stepping back, it was hard not to notice this week how little discussion there was about possible gun reforms in the wake of the Oxford High School shooting. In the not-too-distant past, following the deaths of kids in schools, there was at least some public conversation about what more we can do to prevent these tragedies.

This week, that conversation was muted, to the extent that it existed at all. The relative silence reflected the apathy that comes with knowing that our current politics makes meaningful changes in this area impossible. Gun violence is the background noise of our lives, and its sounds will persist, indefinitely, until our politics changes.

For his part, Murphy told his colleagues yesterday, "[T]he reason that we can't get anything done in the Senate is not because there is a disagreement amongst our constituents about what to do. Our constituents, Republicans and Democrats, support measures like universal background checks. In fact, there's almost nothing in the political world that enjoys such high support as universal background checks.

"But we can't get it done because it seems as if many of my colleagues here care more about the health of the gun industry and their profits than they do about the health of our kids. Gun industry profits are being put ahead of the safety of my children, of our children. Shooting after shooting, Republicans in this body have refused to do anything meaningful that would reduce this pace of carnage both in our schools [and] on the streets of America."