U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander on Wednesday joined senators opposing one amendment that would have expanded background checks for potential gun purchasers and another to ban assault weapons.
New gun-control measures are being considered four months after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Wednesday’s votes were considered major defeats for supporters of tougher gun laws.
A Tennessee Republican, Alexander said he instead supports a proposal offered by senators Chuck Grassley, a Iowa Republican, and Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican. He said the Grassley-Cruz amendment would strengthen federal prosecution under existing gun laws and clarify which records must be included in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
It would also target criminals, such as gang members who are responsible for putting guns in the hands of violent offenders, the senator said in a press release.
“In cases of mental illness, a court proceeding would have to determine that an individual is a danger to themselves or others before his or her name is submitted,” Alexander said.
The New York Times reported that the provision to expand background checks, a bipartisan compromise, was widely seen as the substantive measure with the greatest chance of passing. The amendment had been proposed by senators Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, and Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat.
Alexander announced his opposition to the Toomey-Manchin amendment last week. He has said it would “impose a background check system that is overly broad, vague and ultimately ineffective.”
The assault weapons ban had been proposed by Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat. It was reported to seek to ban some semi-automatic weapons modeled after military assault weapons.
“I’m examining every amendment to gun legislation to see whether it infringes upon or strengthens Second Amendment constitutional rights,” Alexander said. “I voted against the so-called ‘assault weapons’ ban because it clearly infringes on Second Amendment rights, and I voted against the Toomey-Manchin amendment because it could easily evolve into a national gun registry.”
A ban on high-capacity gun magazines also failed. The amendments needed 60 votes under an agreement both parties had reached to consider them.
The laws were pushed by President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders in the aftermath of Newtown, CNN reported, but fierce opposition by the National Rifle Association led a backlash by conservative Republicans and a few Democrats from pro-gun states.
Alexander said the Grassley-Cruz amendment would strengthen Second Amendment rights “while improving our existing system to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and those a court has decided are dangerously mentally ill.”
He said the NRA also supports the Grassley proposal, and the organization gave him an “A” rating in its most recent ranking.