Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and some vulnerable Republican lawmakers signaled Wednesday that they are open to changing the nation’s gun laws, raising the possibility that the political tide might be shifting on an issue that has sharply divided Americans for years.

This isn’t the first time a mass shooting, in this case the massacre in Orlando, Florida, that killed 49 people this week, has sparked a national cry for congressional action on gun availability. In past instances, such calls to action have been followed by intense pressure from gun rights supporters urging lawmakers to focus elsewhere.

But the debate launched this week could be different, mostly because of Trump. And it could further divide Republicans, many of whom were already distancing themselves from his anti-Muslim rhetoric in the wake of Orlando.

Trump’s renewed focus on gun laws goes against Republican orthodoxy, which generally considers Second Amendment issues to be settled. It also complicates the Republican response to the Orlando shootings, which had focused mostly on national security and concerns about home-grown terrorism.

And Trump’s attention to the issue has the potential to strain lawmakers in tough re-election battles: those from moderate swing states with constituents who favor tougher gun laws; and those who feel pressure to defend against Trump’s critique that nothing gets done in Washington.

A Democratic senator waged a filibuster into the night Wednesday in an attempt to force a vote on gun control legislation three days after the Orlando attack, the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.


Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy said he would remain on the Senate floor “until we get some signal, some sign that we can come together,” and evoked the Newtown school shooting in his state in 2012 that killed 20 children and six educators.

“For those of us that represent Connecticut, the failure of this body to do anything, anything at all in the face of that continued slaughter isn’t just painful to us, it’s unconscionable,” Murphy said.

Murphy began speaking at 11:21 a.m., and he was still standing more than 10 hours later, showing few signs of fatigue. By Senate rules, he has to stand at his desk to maintain control of the floor.

Murphy is seeking a vote on legislation from U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., that would let the government bar sales of guns and explosives to people it suspects of being terrorists. Feinstein offered a similar version of the amendment in December, a day after an extremist couple killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California, but the Republican-run Senate rejected the proposal on a near party-line vote. Murphy also wants a vote to expand background checks.

Trump said Wednesday that he would schedule a meeting soon with the National Rifle Association to discuss proposals to ban people on certain federal watch lists from buying firearms. Trump was renewing a position he first expressed last year after the San Bernardino shooting. But on Wednesday he took it to a new level, via Twitter, by calling for a meeting with the NRA.

Three Republican senators took similar stands. And Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who is locked in a closely watched re-election battle, told Ohio reporters that he is ready to back a federal ban on weapons sales to anyone on a terrorist watch list if a compromise can be reached. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said much the same. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who has worked on bipartisan gun-control legislation in the past and is also facing a tough re-election challenge, announced plans late Wednesday to introduce new legislation after a day of talks with members of both parties as well as gun-control groups.


Collins said Monday that she fully supports prohibiting gun purchases by those on the Transportation Security Administration’s so-called “No Fly List,” a smaller database of known or suspected terrorists. She said Feinstein’s proposal, as introduced last year, contained “unvetted, often fragmentary” information on people without adequate recourse for those who pose no threat.

“Her amendment could have permanently banned somebody from buying a firearm without sufficient legal justification,” Collins said in a statement Monday. “Using the much more targeted ‘No Fly List,’ with due process protections, would be more practical and more effective than this overly broad approach.”

Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent, supported Feinstein’s proposal in December and indicated in an interview Monday he would do so again as long as it features a fair and expedient way for those wrongly included on the list to appeal.

After the San Bernardino shooting, Trump told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that he is “very strongly into the whole thing with the Second Amendment. But if you can’t fly, and if you have got some really bad – I would certainly look at that very hard.

“We have to be looking at a lot of different things,” Trump said. “But we can’t do anything to hurt the Second Amendment. People need their weapons to protect themselves. And you see that now more than ever before.”

Trump’s position was buoyed this week by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who said that he is “open” to keeping guns out of the hands of terrorists but not through existing proposals authored mostly by Democrats. Republicans have objected to those proposals because of the risk, they say, that innocent Americans improperly listed might be denied the right to purchase a weapon. Their counterproposals have included provisions requiring the FBI to prove that someone has engaged in terrorist activity before banning a gun purchase.


“Nobody wants terrorists to have firearms,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday.

The NRA expressed general support for the idea – but also made clear that a ban on sales to all people on watch lists would be unfair. Only after an investigation by the FBI proving terrorist activity should such sales be blocked, the group said. “Our position is, no guns for terrorists – period. Due process & right to self-defense for law-abiding Americans,” the group tweeted.

More ardent gun rights activists warned that Trump and Republican lawmakers could be jeopardizing conservative support by pushing for changes.

“This is the first true character test for Donald Trump, undoubtedly. As of right now, it sure looks like he’s failed it miserably,” said Dudley Brown, president of the National Association for Gun Rights, an NRA rival.

Brown said it should “scare every American” that federal officials could place them on “a secret list that would block their constitutional rights.” He will be attending the Republican National Convention in Cleveland next month as a delegate and said that he and others are hoping to rewrite the party platform with tougher gun-rights language.

“But we’re not waiting for Cleveland,” Brown said, noting that his group’s members were already calling and emailing Republican lawmakers in Washington to forestall a fresh debate.

Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress were launching a full-court press aimed at forcing Republicans to act. House Democrats said they would push again to expand background checks on gun purchases and renew the lapsed assault-weapons ban – but would focus first on stopping terrorism suspects from buying firearms.

The federal terrorism watch list included some 800,000 people as of September 2014, the most recent data available. The Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, was on a list until 2014, when the FBI removed him on grounds he did not pose a credible threat. The lead shooter in the San Bernardino massacre also had been investigated by the FBI.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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