Ohio Sen. Portman votes to block debate on gun bill

Sen. Rob Portman joined forces Thursday with some of the Senate’s most conservative members in an unsuccessful effort to block Senate floor debate on a package of new gun restrictions.

By a vote of 68-31, the Senate brushed aside conservative delaying tactics to bring the bill to the floor. The vote does not mean the Senate will approve new gun restrictions, but instead allows lawmakers from both parties to amend and debate the measure, a process that could take weeks.

Portman, R-Ohio, joined with 29 Republicans and two Democrats Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska to try and kill the measure. Most of the GOP opponents were from states in the South and West, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Rand Paul of Kentucky and James Inhofe of Oklahoma.

Portman defended his vote, telling reporters in a conference call that the current version of the bill included a Democratic-sponsored measure that would have required broad criminal background checks before people could buy a gun.

“We now know what it is, it’s not a bill that has any bi-partisan support, at least it didn’t in committee,’’ Portman said. “And it does not exempt family transfers, it doesn’t even cover the gifts of guns. It doesn’t exempt private sales; it doesn’t even exempt borrowing a gun, unless you follow some very strict criteria. It holds over people’s head a felony charge.’’

A bipartisan compromise negotiated by Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania was expected to be offered as an amendment. The compromise includes background checks at gun shows and Internet sales, but exempt checks when one person sells a gun to another individual.

Portman, however, would not say whether he would support the compromise, saying “at this point we do not have the language. But what I’ll be looking for is whether there are increased burdens on background checks that don’t address the root cause of these problems, while infringing on gun rights. If that’s the case, I will not be able to support it, but I will certainly take a look at it.’’

Sixteen Republicans – including Toomey, John McCain of Arizona, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of Tennessee, and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia — joined 52 Democrats to end the filibuster.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, voted to end the delaying tactics, saying “with some 90 percent of Americans supporting background checks, we know that the status quo is unacceptable.’’

“It’s just common sense to keep firearms out of the hands of convicted felons,’’ Brown said “I hope the debate ahead will result in bipartisan solutions on the challenges we face to keep our communities safe.”

The Senate debate was sparked by the shooting carnage last December in which 20 elementary school children and six adults were killed by a gun man in Newtown, Conn.

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