State political science experts on GOP filibuster, Senate gun debate

Two House bills on gun background checks face roadblocks in the Senate.
Published: Mar. 24, 2021 at 8:11 PM EDT
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WINTERVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - President Joe Biden called on Congress to “immediately pass” gun laws after two mass shootings just six days apart killed a total of 18 people in the U.S.

Although the U.S. House of Representatives passed two bills on gun background checks, the legislation would need 60 votes, including ten Senate Republicans’ support, to overcome a filibuster.

One bill would extend background checks to private sales, and the other would extend background checks from three to ten days.

“The Senate is a super majoritarian institution,” Elon University Associate Professor of Political Science Jason Husser said. “It requires 60 senators to stop one senator from continuing to talk as long as possible, and so as a result to get anything done in the Senate, it requires 60 votes. That makes the Senate very different than the U.S. House of Representatives in which a simple majority is able to pass legislation.”

East Carolina University Dr. Peter Francia said one of the issues Senate Republicans have with the two house bills is that it makes it more difficult for Americans to purchase a firearm.

“If it’s a sale between somebody you know, then there shouldn’t be a lengthy, bureaucratic process that sort of prevents that sale from happening,” Francia said on H.R. 8. “The bill would create some hurdles for purchases between two people who may know each other. But I think the bigger point is that there are a number of Republican senators who are just principally against making it more difficult to purchase firearms, and that’s rooted in an interpretation of the Second Amendment.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) proposed a bill back in 2013 known as the “Manchin-Toomey Amendment,” that emerged in the Senate but did not pass. The bill focused more on commercial sales.

Manchin, who’s known as a moderate Democrat representing a more conservative and rural state, does not support the two bills, thus making the filibuster go on, which can be difficult to get rid of, according to Husser.

“Manchin and I think a number of people, really on both sides of the aisle, are saying, “Well, the filibuster, in many ways protects the minority party,” Husser said. “So right now, Republicans are in the minority party, but they’re not always going to be the minority party. Democrats will probably ... one day not be a majority. And so by getting rid of the filibuster now … under democratic control means that it also won’t be there when Democrats aren’t empowered anymore.”

Husser said there’s a trade-off to going faster on passing legislation.

“We live in this hyper-polarized time, but we’re not necessarily seeing that many pieces of legislation that are hyper-partisan come out. And one of the reasons for that is filibuster,” Husser said. “If you get rid of the filibuster we’ll probably start seeing policy switches. Every Congress, every two years that are far more extreme simply because that filibuster really stops far left or far right policies from being passed.”

Husser said there needs to be a vote for “cloture” to overcome a filibuster, a supermajority of 60 votes.

Both Husser and Francia say it’s unlikely the two House bills will win what’s needed to overcome a GOP filibuster.

“It’s a complicated issue,” Husser said. “It’s one that is not going to have immediate resolution. And while there’s lots of calls after horrible events like what we’ve seen over the last few weeks to have rapid change, the U.S. system is not one given towards rapid change.”

Francia said he thinks that the most likely scenario if anything happens, is that a bill would emerge from the Senate more along the lines of the Manchin-Toomey Amendment.

“I think in light of current events, there’s the possibility that you could build up enough bipartisan support on the Republican side to get a more moderate bill through the Senate than what we saw pass in the House.”

The Supreme Court will meet on Friday to discuss whether justices add a case regarding the Second Amendment to the docket for next term, which Husser said we’ll probably see more of those cases going to the Supreme Court in the next several years.

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