Senator proposes new gun bill to block sales to suspected terrorists after other bills fail

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Sen. Susan Collins, (R) Maine, candidate for US Senate. Official portrait obtained from Office of Senator Susan Collins.

WASHINGTON — A moderate Republican senator from Maine is seeking support from both parties for a compromise to block guns from suspected terrorists.

Sen. Susan Collins announced her plan on Tuesday, just one day after the Senate split along party lines on four gun measures.

On Monday, the vote was held on four gun control measures after Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy filibustered for 15 hours last week in favor of stricter gun laws following the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history at an Orlando nightclub.

Both proposals--one from each party--on blocking gun sales to suspected terrorists failed, as did measures from both parties that would have expanded background checks, including one proposed by Murphy that would require background checks for all gun sales, including private ones and ones at gun shows.

The Republican measure on blocking gun sales to suspected terrorists would have delayed those sales by three days, at which point a judge would have to rule on blocking the sale permanently. The Democratic proposal would have banned the sale to all on the terror watch list.

There are about 1 million people on the government's overall terrorist watch list. Collins' proposal would apply to far fewer people than the Democratic version of the bill, but eliminate the time limits proposed by Republicans.

Collins' proposal would let federal prosecutors bar guns for the 81,000 people on the federal no-fly list, and the 28,000 people on the government's selectee list. Those are people who can board planes after extra screening.

Tuesday afternoon, New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte announced the bipartisan group supporting the bill, which includes Collins; fellow Maine Independent Sen. Angus King; Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota; Sen. Martin Heinreich, D-New Mexico; Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona; Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina; and Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia.

At a Tuesday afternoon news conference, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would allow a vote on Collins' bill, but declined to say when the vote would be held or his personal views on the legislation.

Later in the day, Murphy commented on the proposal, saying, "I'm really encouraged that there are Republicans and Democrats, my friends on both sides of the aisle who since last Wednesday night have felt the need to sit down and work out something that maybe we can all support."

Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, whose own proposal on guns failed Monday, said he has some concerns about the due process issues in the bill "in the front end" but told reporters he is willing to listen to get more information on the proposal.

He said he expects a vote Thursday on Collins' proposal.

California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer said she was optimistic Collins' proposal will pass.

"I believe I can predict we can get all of the 46 Democrats. All she needs is 14 Republicans. She said she is really working on it," Boxer said.

One major obstacle is the NRA, which Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson told reporters is "vigorously opposing" Collins' bill. He supports her effort, and said it includes some provisions he has pushed. If the NRA publicly opposes the measure Collins' efforts are likely to fail, as many Senate Republicans might be reluctant to be at odds with the powerful lobby.

Collins said she hasn't spoken to the NRA about the proposal.

"The NRA still has a vice grip on Washington.  I think it's loosening everyday but it's still significant," Murphy added, saying that the NRA is already sending out robocalls against Collins' proposal.

With reporting by the Associated Press and CNN.