When U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio unveiled a gun safety bill Sept. 15, his Democratic rival for re-election attacked him for failing to support important gun safety legislation months earlier.
"After the tragedy in Orlando, Rubio used the deaths of 49 innocent Floridians to run for re-election while voting against every bill that would have helped keep our families safe," U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy said in a campaign statement. "He even voted against a bipartisan measure, introduced by a Republican, to prevent people on the no-fly list from purchasing guns."
Rubio, a Republican, has been endorsed by the National Rifle Association. Murphy has been endorsed by the Pride Fund to end Gun Violence, an LGBT group formed after the June 12 Orlando mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub.
Rubio voted for and against gun bills following the shooting, including those related to the no-fly list, a subset of the terrorist watch list. One vote was a procedural move against a Republican-sponsored compromise effort that failed.
Gun safety bills in the Senate
On June 20, the Senate voted on four amendments aimed to strengthen background checks and make it harder for terrorists or suspected terrorists to buy guns. All four were rejected largely on party lines.
Rubio voted against the legislation written by Democrats — a background check amendment by Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy and an amendment by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein to ban known or suspected terrorists from buying a gun. He voted in favor of the Republican versions: a background check amendment by Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley and an amendment about the terrorism watch list by Texas Sen. John Cornyn.
Unlike Feinstein’s bill, which would have placed a blanket ban on gun purchases by people who are terrorists or suspected terrorists, Cornyn’s measure would have placed a three-day hold on such sales, allowing the government to make a case in court against the sale showing the person is involved in terrorism or will commit terrorism. Rubio said he supported Cornyn’s legislation because it would ensure "Second Amendment rights are not denied unless terrorism suspicions are adjudicated by a court, following actual notice and a hearing."
Murphy's campaign argues that Cornyn's bill requiring the federal government to show probable cause in court sets an unworkable standard of proof for law enforcement in court.
(Under current law, being on a government terrorist watch list is not an automatic reason to be denied the right to buy a gun; however, the FBI is notified. There have to be other disqualifying factors, such as a felony conviction or being an undocumented immigrant.)
These were not the bills Murphy was talking about. Murphy was referring to a compromise crafted by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.
Collins’ amendment proposed to ban people from buying guns if they were on the no-fly list or the "selectee list," which means they undergo additional screening before boarding a plane. Those who were banned from buying guns could appeal in court.
The amendment had 12 cosponsors: seven Democrats, four Republicans and one independent.
On June 23, a motion to table the legislation failed with a 46-52 vote. That left the amendment still pending, but it showed that her legislation was short of the 60 votes required to advance — and it never did.
The question was a motion to table, so when Rubio voted "yea" he was voting against the amendment. Eight Republicans voted against tabling the legislation.
Rubio cosponsored another Republican alternative from Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. That proposal would have also blocked those on a terrorist list from buying guns but delayed the sale for three days with the possibility of an extension to allow for an investigation. Then it required a hearing before a judge to block the person from buying a gun. It failed 67-31.
A day before the vote on the Collins amendment, Rubio told reporters that it was a "difficult balancing act" to bar terrorists from getting guns while protecting constitutional rights.
"They’re trying to do it all in a hurry here, and I think we need to get it right," he said.
After the vote, Rubio told CNN that he was concerned about how much money a gun buyer would have to spend on an appeal.
"If you erroneously end up on a no-fly list, or a selectee list, unless you can come up with $10,000 or $15,000 to hire a lawyer, even if you get your fees back upfront, it’s going to be hard and intimidating to go to a federal court," he said.
On Sept. 15, Rubio unveiled his own bill that would allow the U.S. attorney general to delay a firearms' purchase for up to three days and file an emergency court petition if someone previously investigated for terrorism tried to buy a gun. The Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, had previously been placed on a terrorist watch list in 2013 and was investigated by the FBI but he was never charged and later removed from the list.
After the gun legislation in the Senate died in June, the House didn’t take the bills up for a vote.
Murphy cosponsored a bill requiring the FBI be notified when individuals under a terrorism investigation and those formerly under investigation purchase firearms or explosives. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., introduced a similar version in the Senate, but neither bill has reached a vote.
Was Collins’ amendment bipartisan?
Murphy called Collins’ amendment bipartisan, and in many ways it seems as though it was: It was written by a Republican, drew four Republican cosponsors along with seven Democrats, and attracted eight GOP members’ support in the procedural vote against tabling it.
The U.S. Senate has 54 Republicans and 45 Democrats (including one independent, Bernie Sanders, who pursued the Democratic presidential nomination).
There is no pure definition of what can be called a "bipartisan" piece of legislation but you know it when you see it, said David Hawkings, senior editor of CQ Roll Call, a publication that tracks votes and legislation.
"It’s an evolving definition -- as Congress gets more and more polarized on party lines even a handful crossing going against the grain makes it bipartisan," he said. "It’s situational."
Hawkings said he would consider Collins’ amendment bipartisan.
"In that case it was an effort by Collins, obviously a Republican, who was trying to put together enough Republicans to go against the wishes of their own leadership and go with Democrats to advance this," he said.
Laurel Harbridge, a political scientist at Northwestern University who recently wrote a book about bipartisanship, says that a bill is "bipartisan" if at least 20 percent of a bill's cosponsors hail from the opposite party as the sponsor. So Collins’ amendment would meet that definition.
"In today's polarized Congress any measure that picks up any support from the other side of the aisle might be deemed bipartisan -- especially on a particularly salient and charged issue like gun control," George Washington University political scientist Sarah Binder said.
Murphy said Rubio voted "against every bill that would have helped keep our families safe. He even voted against a bipartisan measure, introduced by a Republican, to prevent people on the no-fly list from purchasing guns."
Murphy overstates the situation when he says Rubio voted against "every" bill that came up after the Orlando massacre. Rubio voted for Republican-sponsored legislation about background checks and adding restrictions to individuals on the terrorist list.
Murphy has a point that Rubio voted against a Republican-sponsored, bipartisan measure to ban people on the no-fly list from buying weapons. However, this ad omits that Rubio supported a separate Republican measure that also banned people on the no-fly list from buying guns but required a court hearing before the person was banned from buying a gun.
Murphy's statement contains an element of truth but omits important facts to create a misleading picture. We rate this claim Mostly False.