GOP Sen. Risch downplays filibuster, says gun bill debate a ‘good thing’

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“The filibuster is simply a tactic to stop the bill from passing,” he added. “If you’re successful with the filibuster it’s over, it’s done, and that would be my preference.”

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 counts 13 Republican signers, including Risch. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) did not sign the letter but backed the effort, saying he would filibuster the bill because the background-check portion did not receive a single Republican vote during the Judiciary Committee markup. 

However, a number of senior Republicans this week said they would not support a filibuster, making it likely that Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) can bring the measure to debate despite the opposition.

Still, Risch and other Republicans remain opposed to any expansion of the current background checks system. Risch on Wednesday argued it would pass the burden on to legal firearms owners, and said existing laws weren’t being enforced in the first place.

Republican Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.) and Democrat Joe Manchin (W.V.) will hold a press conference early Wednesday to discuss developments in their closely-watched negotiations on expanding background checks for gun purchases.

The joint press conference has raised hopes the two lawmakers are close to a deal which would be a breakthrough for efforts to pass a Senate gun control bill. A bipartisan background check measure could attract enough GOP support to reach the Senate’s 60-vote threshold.

Risch said he didn’t know the details of the potential bipartisan proposal, but said it likely would not have stopped the Newtown massacre or other mass shootings.

“I don’t know what the proposal is. I suspect it’s an expansion of the background checks system,” he said. “What we know for certain is that the atrocities that were committed at Virginia Tech by a defendant, a criminal, who actually passed a background check, and the atrocities that were committed at Connecticut were done with guns that were purchased by someone who went through a background check.

“I want to keep guns out of the hands of people that shouldn’t have them,” said Risch. “The background check, at least under the system we have today, is not a way of doing that.”