Sen. Enzi joins GOP group threatening to filibuster gun control

Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) on Monday joined a group of Republicans threatening to filibuster gun control legislation in the Senate.

“The measures proposed currently by the majority do not reduce crime, they simply restrict the American public’s constitutional right to self-defense,” Enzi said in a statement. “These bills would take away one of the basic freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights and proponents won’t stop with these restrictions.”

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In March, a group of Republican lawmakers, led by Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.), Mike Lee (Utah), Ted Cruz (Texas) and Marco Rubio (Fla.), wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pledging to “oppose the motion to proceed to any legislation that will serve as a vehicle for any additional gun restrictions.”

The group now counts 13 Republican senators vowing to filibuster gun control legislation.

“We, the undersigned, intend to oppose any legislation that would infringe on the American people’s constitutional right to bear arms, or on their ability to exercise this right without being subjected to government surveillance,” the group’s letter to Reid read.

Enzi’s support for the threatened filibuster comes ahead of a crucial test for gun control in the Senate. With lawmakers returning from a two-week Easter recess, Reid is poised to push a gun control bill on the Senate floor. But with Republican opposition intensifying, the bill faces a tough fight in the upper chamber.

Reid lashed out at the Republican senators threatening a filibuster in a speech Monday on the floor of the Senate.

“We should not stifle debate, run from tough issues or avoid difficult choices,” Reid said. “This body – the world’s greatest deliberative body – has a proud tradition of such robust and constructive debate.

The Democratic leader said he was “deeply troubled that a number of my Republican colleagues plan not only to oppose stricter gun violence laws, but to prevent the Senate from even voting on those measures.”

Reid accused the Republican signers of being “afraid to even engage in this debate,” and said they owed the families of the Sandy Hook victims a vote.

“Shame on them,” he said. “The least Republicans owe the parents of 20 children murdered with guns at Sandy Hook Elementary is a thoughtful debate about whether stronger gun laws could have saved their little girls and boys. The least Republicans owe them is a vote.”

The gun control bill would expand background checks and penalties on straw purchases of firearms. The portion of the bill on illegal trafficking of firearms has bipartisan support, including from Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

But the language on background checks, once called the “sweet spot” for reform by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), has seen increased opposition after his efforts to craft a bipartisan proposal fell short.

Republicans expressed fears the language could lead to the creation of a federal database of gun owners and apply to gun transfers between family members.

The Washington Post reported on Monday that Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and his GOP colleague Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.) are working on language to expand checks on firearm sales at gun shows and over the Internet while excluding family members and some hunters, a compromise they hope will be a way around the current deadlock.

Grassley is also preparing gun control legislation he will offer as an alternative to the package from Democrats, but he has yet to release new details.

The White House has been steadily ramping up its efforts in pressuring Congress to act, with President Obama taking his case on the road and hosting events with families of victims of gun violence.

Obama will speak in Connecticut on the importance of gun control Monday and will meet privately with the relatives of children killed in December in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. After the speech, the families will join Obama on Air Force One in a trip back to Washington.

On Tuesday, Vice President Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder will be joined by law enforcement officials in a joint speech about gun control at the White House.

Obama press secretary Jay Carney last week warned against a Senate filibuster, saying that such a move would be “unfortunate.”

I don't think you need to tell the families of those who have lost their children to gun violence that bills like this may be filibustered. I don't think that would be welcome news,” he told reporters.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Sunday also criticized the GOP threats to filibuster gun legislation and called for a debate on the bill.

“I don’t understand it,” said McCain on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “The purpose of the United States Senate is to debate and to vote and to let the people know where we stand.”

This story was last updated at 4:13 p.m.