WASHINGTON -- The Senate cleared a major procedural hurdle on Thursday as it voted to overcome a Republican filibuster effort and begin debate on a gun control package.
Senators voted 68 to 31 take up the bill put forward by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that would expand background checks to more gun buyers, form a national commission on mass violence, create a federal gun trafficking statute and enhance school safety measures. The procedural motion required 60 votes to pass, and Republicans had been dodging questions for days on how they would vote.
If the senators who voted "no" had prevailed, the Senate wouldn't have been able to debate the package, let alone amend it and vote on it.
There were some notable party splits. Two Democrats, Sens. Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Mark Begich (Alaska), joined the Republican filibuster effort. Sixteen Republicans sided with Democrats to vote to begin debate on the bill: Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Richard Burr (N.C.), Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), Tom Coburn (Okla.), Susan Collins (Maine), Bob Corker (Tenn.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Dean Heller (Nev.), John Hoeven (N.D.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), John McCain (Ariz.), Pat Toomey (Pa.) and Roger Wicker (Miss.).
The vote comes during a particularly intense week in the debate over how to stem gun violence. Families of Newtown, Conn., shooting victims have been on Capitol Hill meeting with senators to urge them to support the bill. During Thursday's vote, they sat in the balcony watching lawmakers cast their votes. Shortly after the vote, President Barack Obama called the families to congratulate them and said the Senate debate on gun violence "wouldn't be possible" without their efforts, White House press secretary Jay Carney said during his daily briefing.
The outcome was clearly a win for gun control advocates, but the bill still faces major challenges. For starters, its opponents are expected to use the full 30 hours allotted before debate can actually begin on the bill, which means senators can't begin offering amendments until next week. Once the amendment process does begin, Republicans are expected to put forward several measures designed to weaken the bill, including an amendment by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that would gut it and replace it with a watered-down alternative. Beyond that, 60 votes will again be needed in order to end debate on the bill and move to final passage -- a key vote that the National Rifle Association announced it will score.
A Senate Democratic leadership aide said to expect about 10 amendments to the bill. The aide noted in an email that some Republicans are even threatening to object to take up the amendments all at once, which means "it could take 3-4 days to set up EACH amendment vote."
Still, the fact that the bill has now cleared the first procedural motion means it will receive a debate. Up until minutes before the vote, Republicans were urging their colleagues to vote against letting that happen.
"As of this very moment, not a single senator has been provided the legislative language" of the background checks piece of the bill, said Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), referring to a bipartisan deal cut on Wednesday on that provision. "That is the centerpiece of this measure. It is critical that we all know what's in the bill before we vote on it ... That's why I ask my colleagues to vote against cloture."
The gun bill "remains controversial" and "has little chance, if any, of going anywhere," argued Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). "I'm not going to vote to proceed to a bill that has not yet been written, no matter how well-intentioned it may be. We need to make sure that what we do is address the cause of this violence and to not come up with symbolic gestures."
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) chided lawmakers for trying to block even a debate on the gun bill.
"We are the 100 senators elected to represent more than 314 million Americans. We are accountable to them, not to special interests lobbies on the left or the right. They should not dictate what we do," he said. "I urge all senators to be less concerned with special interest score cards and more focused on fulfilling our oath to faithfully discharge the duties of our offices as United States senators."
Related on HuffPost:
1981: The Attempted Assassination Of President Ronald Reagan
on March 30, 1981, President Reagan and three others were shot and wounded in an assassination attempt by John Hinckley, Jr. outside the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. Reagan's press secretary, Jim Brady, was shot in the head.
1993: The Brady Handgun Violence Act
The Brady Handgun Violence Act of 1993, signed into law by President Bill Clinton, mandated that federally licensed dealers complete comprehensive background checks on individuals before selling them a gun. The legislation was named for James Brady, who was shot during an attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981.
1994: The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act
The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994, instituted a ban on 19 kinds of assault weapons, including Uzis and AK-47s. The crime bill also banned the possession of magazines holding more than ten rounds of ammunition. (An exemption was made for weapons and magazines manufactured prior to the ban.)
2004: Law Banning Magazines Holding More Than Ten Rounds Of Ammunition Expires
In 2004, ten years after it first became law, Congress allowed a provision banning possession of magazines holding more than ten rounds of ammunition to expire through a sunset provision. Brady Campaign President Paul Helmke told HuffPost that the expiration of this provision meant that Rep. Gabby Giffords's alleged shooter was able to fire off 20-plus shots without reloading (under the former law he would have had only ten).
2007: The U.S. Court of Appeals For The District Of Columbia Rules In Favor Of Dick Heller
In 2007 The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled to allow Dick Heller, a licensed District police officer, to keep a handgun in his home in Washington, D.C. Following that ruling, the defendants petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.
2008: The NICS Improvement Amendments Act
Following the deadly shooting at Virginia Tech University, Congress passed legislation to require states provide data on mentally unsound individuals to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, with the aim of halting gun purchases by the mentally ill, and others prohibited from possessing firearms. The bill was signed into law by President George W. Bush in January of 2008.
2008: Supreme Court Strikes Down D.C. Handgun Ban As Unconstitutional
In June of 2008, the United States Supreme Court upheld the verdict of a lower court ruling the D.C. handgun ban unconstitutional in the landmark case <em>District of Columbia v. Heller</em>.
Gabrielle Giffords And Trayvon Martin Shootings
Gun control advocates had high hopes that reform efforts would have increased momentum in the wake of two tragic events that rocked the nation. In January of 2011, Jared Loughner opened fire at an event held by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), killing six and injuring 13, including the congresswoman. Resulting attempts to push gun control legislation <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/09/trayvon-martin-shooting-gun-debate_n_1413115.html" target="_hplink">proved fruitless</a>, with neither proposal even succeeding in gaining a single GOP co-sponsor. More than a year after that shooting, Florida teenager Trayvon Martin was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/trayvon-martin" target="_hplink">gunned down</a> by George Zimmerman in an event that some believed would bring increased scrutiny on the nation's Stand Your Ground laws. While there has been increasing discussion over the nature of those statutes, lawmakers were <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/09/trayvon-martin-shooting-gun-debate_n_1413115.html" target="_hplink">quick to concede</a> that they had little faith the event would effectively spur gun control legislation, thanks largely to the National Rifle Association's vast lobbying power. Read more <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/09/trayvon-martin-shooting-gun-debate_n_1413115.html" target="_hplink">here</a>:
Colorado Movie Theater Shooting
In July of 2012, a heavily armed gunman <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/20/aurora-shooting-movie-theater-batman_n_1688547.html" target="_hplink">opened fire on theatergoers</a> attending a midnight premiere of the final film of the latest Batman trilogy, killing 12 and wounding scores more. The suspect, James Eagan Holmes, allegedly carried out the act with a number of handguns, as well as an AR-15 assault rifle with a 100-round drum magazine. Some lawmakers used the incident, which took place in a state with some of the laxest gun control laws, to bring forth legislation designed to place increased regulations on access to such weapons, but many observers, citing previous experience, were <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/20/batman-shooting_n_1690547.html" target="_hplink">hesitant to say</a> that they would be able to overcome the power of the National Rifle Association and Washington gun lobby.
Sikh Temple Shooting
On August 5, 2012, white supremacist Wade Michael Page opened fire on a Sikhs gathered at a temple in Oak Creek, Wis., killing six and wounding four more before turning the gun on himself.