Laura Seitz, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike Lee labeled the Senate's decision to reject the effort by him and other conservatives to stop debate on gun control legislation even before it started a "procedural success."
"I don't view this as a failure," Lee, R-Utah, said after the Senate voted 68-31 to proceed with debate on the bill drafted in response to December's deadly school shooting in Connecticut. "We were still able to extend things two or three days longer."
Lee, along with fellow Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, backed the maneuver that forced supporters of the bill to come up with at least 60 votes to begin debating expanded background checks and other measures next week.
It was Lee who spoke on the Senate floor Thursday in favor of not taking up the bill.
Reading from a few of the more than 3,000 comments posted to his Senate website in support of the Second Amendment, Lee quoted an elderly woman from Virginia who purchased her first gun with her husband last year.
"Protecting our rights, the few the government has left us, is of utmost importance to us, and we'll do everything necessary to hold onto those rights, regardless of the source of the threats against them. God bless America," Lee said.
Standing in the Senate chamber during the vote were families of the victims of the Newtown, Conn., massacre that left 26 dead, including 20 first-graders. Supporters of the gun bill, including President Barack Obama, said the families deserve action on the bill.
Lee declined to say whether the gun rights advocates he quoted were as influential on the vote as the families.
"I don't want to compare those voices to those of the victims of the horrible tragedy in Newtown," he said. "There's not a member of this body, or of the House, not a single American I know of who wouldn't prefer to find a way to do away forever with this kind of tragedy."
But he said the gun control legislation, expected to feature a bipartisan compromise extending background checks to those who buy guns at shows or on the Internet, "ends up significantly restricting the rights of law-abiding citizens."
Utahns, though, overwhelmingly favor background checks for all gun buyers just as most Americans do, according to a poll taken in January for BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.
The poll of residents across the state found that 82 percent support background checks.
"Utahns strongly favor that," said Quin Monson, the center's director.
Still, he said, Lee won't face political consequences in Utah for his opposition to the Senate bill "to the extent it's viewed more broadly as getting in the way of additional gun control."
Both Monson and Matthew Wilson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said Lee and other opponents likely won't be able to stop the gun bill from passing in some form.
What the opponents will be able to do, Wilson said, is "win points with the NRA, which is an important interest group." Lee already has an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association, as do all of the other members of Utah's congressional delegation.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who voted with Lee to oppose proceeding with the gun bill, has an "A-plus" rating from the NRA. Hatch said in a statement he could not "in good conscience move forward on a proposal based on an outline and talking points."
Wilson said because there is virtually no constituency opposed to background checks, Thursday's vote was "all about interest-group politics."
- Families face uncertainty, unite in prayer as...
- Utah judge could be first to rule on state...
- Former Attorney General John Swallow left...
- Longtime teacher, BYU instructor appointed...
- Seeing is believing: Doctor, family say...
- Sugar House streetcar prepares for public launch
- Federal website fixes allowing more Utahns to...
- Expelling Santa from school? Holiday...
- Utah judge could be first to rule on... 99
- Should parents pay extra for... 46
- Utah A.G. John Swallow: 'No way to... 25
- Seeing is believing: Doctor, family say... 25
- Tea Party Express endorses Sen. Mike... 25
- Candidates seeking to replace Swallow... 19
- 'Little Bulldog' will take a break; the... 18
- Gov. Gary Herbert unveils $13.3 billion... 18