Hatch, Lee help defeat ‘centerpiece’ gun-control legislation
Politics • Utahns side with the opponents of expansionof background checks.
Published: April 17, 2013 05:07PM
Updated: April 17, 2013 11:37PM

Washington • Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee opposed every gun-control measure on Wednesday, opting instead to back a failed GOP move to expand some gun rights and boost resources for gun prosecutions.

The failure of a much-ballyhooed effort to expand background checks — opposed by Hatch and Lee — could spell doom for President Barack Obama’s effort to boost restrictions on firearm sales in the wake of years of gun-fueled massacres.

Obama called it a “pretty shameful day for Washington,” but said the failure was only “round one,” and he pressed for continued action.

“I wouldn’t call it dead because something could pass,” Lee said moments after casting his ballot against the bipartisan proposal to require background checks for all gun show and online sales.

But Lee noted Wednesday’s vote signaled the death of the “centerpiece” legislation pushed by gun-control advocates and the one significant measure that seemed to have the most likely chance of passing.

“What we see in this proposal is something that would do little if anything to prevent violent crime while simultaneously burdening, however incrementally, the rights of law-abiding Americans,” Lee said.

Lee and Hatch both voted for a Republican amendment that would increase resources for gun prosecutions, augment mental health screenings and add to school security, as well as permit interstate handgun sales.

But the Utah GOP duo opposed an amendment to limit the size of gun magazines or enact an assault-weapons ban. None of the amendments voted on Wednesday met the 60-vote threshold needed to pass.

Hatch — who said he “hopes” the gun-control legislation is done for good — said the measures were “political more than anything else.”

“There are so many things wrong with [the background check bill] it would take too long to talk about,” Hatch said. “My heart goes out and my empathy goes out for the people who have suffered but there isn’t anything in that bill that would solve any of those problems in any of those major incidents.”

The National Rifle Association heralded the vote against more background checks.

“As we have noted previously, expanding background checks, at gun shows or elsewhere, will not reduce violent crime or keep our kids safe in their schools,” said the group’s chief lobbyist, Chris Cox.

Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who crossed the aisle to back the background-check expansion, said before the vote that what mattered was that the attempt was made — and that the senators backing the amendment were on the right side of history.

“You may not win today ... but you did the right thing,” McCain said. “Doing the right thing is always a reward unto itself.”

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., was even more blunt, surrounding himself with families of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre to decry the anti-gun-control votes.

“Today, fear, mistruth, brute political force won out over what is right and America will be a less safe place because of it,” Schumer said. “But I say to the families, I say to the American people many of whom cannot understand what’s happening here in this Capitol, don’t give up faith.”

The Senate voted on seven of the nine amendments to the gun bill on Wednesday night and planned to return Thursday to finish off three proposed tweaks that would separately limit magazine size, expand mental health services and ensure that states could not share data on gun ownership.

Taking a stern tone, Obama said late Wednesday that senators were not listening to the 90 percent of Americans who supported expanded background checks.

“All that happened today was the preservation of a loophole that allows dangerous criminals to buy guns,” Obama said. “Victory for not doing something that 90 percent of Americans, 80 percent of Republicans, the vast majority of your constituents wanted to get done? It begs the question, who are we here to represent?”

tburr@sltrib.com