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Fifteen-Hour Gun Control Filibuster Bears Little Meaningful Fruit

After 14 hours and 50 minutes, Sen. Chris Murphy announces "commitment from Republicans to schedule votes"—on measures that fall short of what's needed

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) ended his filibuster by displaying a photo of Dylan Christopher Jack Hockley, a victim from the Sandy Hook shooting. (Photo: NBC News)

Democrats came away from a nearly 15-hour filibuster on Wednesday with an "understanding" that the U.S. Senate will vote on two gun control measures—one expanding background checks and another banning people on the government's so-called "watch list" from obtaining gun licenses.

But while Sen. Chris Murphy's (D-Conn.) "talking filibuster" drew praise for putting the issue of gun control in the spotlight following Sunday's nightclub massacre, political realities make it unlikely that the dramatic gesture will result in the meaningful reform people are demanding.

As Politico reported:

At first blush, the Senate on Wednesday seemed ready to take action to try to prevent future killings like last weekend’s massacre of 49 people in Orlando. Even as Democrats planned their lengthy filibuster, Republicans batted around anti-terrorism proposals and both parties were briefed by FBI Director James Comey.

But aides in both parties said there was little real movement by the end of the day, and both sides remained dug in behind their previous positions. Republicans and Democrats developed anti-terror guns proposals in December after the mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif. — and one senior Democratic source said it would be a breakthrough simply to get re-dos on those two failed votes.

“My guess is we’re back to square one,” the source said.

What's more, critics said the measures on the table don't go far enough, nor do they address the real problem.

Democrats' support for the terror watch list proposal "amounts to a strong endorsement of a system that civil liberties advocates have called a 'Kafkaesque bureaucracy,' and which some Democrats have previously criticized for being secretive, unaccountable, and discriminatory," argued Alex Emmons and Zaid Jilani at The Intercept.

Or as Slate's Mark Joseph Stern put it: "In the gun safety debate, the terror watch list is largely a distraction."

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Meanwhile, neither of the measures is the assault weapons ban so many are calling for.

"What Murphy is doing right now is truly heroic—and how often do you get to say that about a member of Congress these days?" Philadelphia Daily News columnist Will Bunch wrote during the filibuster.

"But let's be honest—it's also not nearly enough," Bunch continued. "America must—at a very minimum—get back to where we were a dozen years ago, when a number of assault weapons were banned. We need to make sure in particular that rapid-fire death implements like the Sig Sauer MCX or the AR-15, the rifles behind the murder of 49 people in Orlando and other mass killings, and any rifles like it, are outlawed in any new gun legislation."

People including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) expressed similar sentiments on social media:

In an interview with Slate this week, Manisha Sinha, author of The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition, drew parallels between the fight over guns and the fight to end slavery. 

"This hand-wringing that we have about gun violence is exactly the way many well-meaning people talked about slavery," Sinha told Slate's Rebecca Onion. "They would say, 'Well, of course, we deplore it, but we don’t want to do anything about it.' For various reasons. And that's why abolitionists were a minority, because they were willing to take on the system as it were, and to do something about it."

She added: "That's what I think the activism against gun violence in this country needs. Children are being killed, almost 50 people have died recently, and yet we continue the same mechanisms to manage these outrages. Which is, we deplore it, but we do nothing about it."

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