The U.S. Senate voted Thursday to proceed on bipartisan legislation to expand background checks on gun purchases, but Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, told WND lawmakers basically agreed to take up a bill that hasn't been written and obviously hasn't been read.
Most Democrats and 16 Republicans combined to vote 68-31 to proceed with debate on the gun bill. Sixty were needed. Sen. Lee was joined by Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky in unsuccessfully pursuing a filibuster of the bill until lawmakers had a chance to read the proposed legislation and gather constituent feedback.
The filibuster was seen as a long shot from the start, but its fate was sealed after Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Joe Manchin, D-W.V., announced their deal on expanding background checks to sales at gun shows and over the Internet. Senate leaders are expected to use the compromise in place of the Democratic version that passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The compromise bill 'doesn't exist yet'
Lee said he has no idea what he thinks of the Toomey-Manchin bill because there's nothing to consider.
"One of the frustrating things about this is that people are talking about the Toomey-Manchin bill. It doesn't exist yet. We still haven't seen language on it," Lee said. "That was part of what was so frustrating to me about this vote today is that we were voting on cloture on the motion to proceed to the legislation. We know that a critical part of that legislation, perhaps the heart of that legislation itself, will be the Toomey-Manchin language. And yet, no such language exists. We don't have it. We don't know what it says. We know a certain outline of the bill, but we don't have any details.
"That's terribly frustrating. Frankly, I think it's irresponsible to vote on legislation like that when you know that that's going to be the centerpiece of it but you don't know what that language says," he said.
Even though the filibuster attempt fell short, Lee said it was the right thing to do and still accomplished something important.
"It was a good strategy. It was also something that brought us an outcome we wanted, which was to extend the debate beyond where it would otherwise have been. Had we not done that, we would have very quickly brought up legislation and perhaps passed something far too quickly before the American people had a chance adequately to review what it was they were going to be stuck with," said Lee, who noted that invoking the 60-vote threshold to proceed bought an additional 30 hours to review some of the gun control proposals.
He said the close scrutiny will continue every step of the way.
"We'll now proceed to the legislation, and we'll still have a number of other votes. This is by no means over yet. I think the more time that goes by, the more the American people are realizing that the bulk of what this legislation does is to make law-abiding citizens less free while doing little or nothing to deter gun violence," he said.
As mentioned, Lee cannot render an opinion on the Toomey-Manchin language since the bill hasn't been written. However, he said the background check language in the original bill was not acceptable to him.
"The universal background check language introduced by Sen. (Chuck) Schumer that moved through the Senate Judiciary Committee, on which I sit, would require universal background checks. It has certain record-keeping requirements in connection with that. It also has provisions giving rule-making authority to the attorney general of the United States," Lee said. "That rule-making authority could be interpreted by an attorney general, either the current one or a future one if it were to become law, that could result in a de facto registration system. Even people who say that they're fine with the universal background check system are rarely, if ever, comfortable with the idea of a universal gun registration system – which I think this provision would lead to.
"You know Americans are just not really comfortable with the federal government keeping track of, keeping a database full of records of very personal details, ranging from what they eat for breakfast, where they go to church and how often, what books they read from the library or in this case what guns they own. They're just not comfortable with that. It shouldn't be keeping track of that information," Lee said.
He's also concerned that by agreeing to open debate on this bill, far more controversial items could get added, including limits on magazine capacity and possibly a ban on many types of firearms. Those amendments could be added by simple majority votes, but Lee said there are plenty of procedural tools at his disposal, including another 60-vote threshold to end debate.
"That 60-vote threshold makes sure that we have broad bipartisan consensus and that prevents us from getting into a posture in which we have a back room-negotiated deal that's foisted upon the American people without any real debate, discussion or bipartisan consensus," Lee said.
On Thursday's motion to proceed, Democrats Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska voted in opposition. The 16 Republicans voting to move forward were Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of Tennessee, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson of Georgia, John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Susan Collins of Maine, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Dean Heller of Nevada, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Toomey.
'We ought to be looking at mental health issues'
"We as a society ought to be looking at mental health issues, and how we can do a better job of making sure mentally disturbed individuals don't get access to firearms," Lee told WND.
He said lawmakers should redirect the discussion to gun policy as it applies to the mentally handicapped, rather than law-abiding gun owners. Many of the perpetrators of recent mass shootings were mentally disturbed and heavily medicated.
For example, James Holmes of the Aurora shooting was, according to Natural Society, "heavily hooked on the prescription painkiller Vicodin. The same article noted that the "side effects of Vicodin use, even at 'recommended' levels which Holmes likely far exceeded, include 'altered mental states' and 'unusual thoughts or behavior.'"
According to the London Telegraph, "After the massacre Holmes calmly told detectives he had taken 100mg of the prescription painkiller Vicodin, and identified himself as 'The Joker.'"
Vicodin is, according to the report, "the same drug was found in the system of actor Heath Ledger when he died of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs in 2008."
WND has also reported that Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza most likely was affected by mind-altering substances as he "was taking prescription medication to treat a neurological-development disorder."
In the same report, WND found, according to Dr. David Healy, that "some 90 percent of school shootings over more than a decade have been linked to a widely prescribed type of anti-depressant called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs."
In context of this, Lee took specific issue with the current legislation that is being rushed through Congress by pointing out that this legislation "would not have prevented those same massacres from happening," as it focuses too much on hindering law-abiding citizens from gaining access to firearms, rather than on preventing the mentally ill from acquiring them.
On Wednesday, Lee also warned on the Senate floor that the current universal background checks proposal "would allow the federal government to surveil law-abiding citizens who exercise their constitutional rights."