For decades, the filibuster has been used to prevent life-saving gun safety legislation from being passed in the U.S. Congress.

What is the Filibuster?

The filibuster is a prolonged debate to delay or prevent a vote on a bill, resolution, amendment, or other debatable question in the U.S. Senate. In order to end a filibuster, or get a cloture, there must be a three-fifths majority vote in favor of ending the debate.

The procedural filibuster has been used to prevent the passage of gun safety legislation for decades.

The filibuster has been used to stifle critical reforms for decades, but few moments have shown the need for reform more than Spring 2013. Just a few months after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Senate took up a series of gun reform bills, the centerpiece of which was a bipartisan bill to expand the background check system to cover sales at gun shows and online, known as Manchin-Toomey.

Despite overwhelming public support for expanding background checks – especially in the wake of a national tragedy – and a clear majority of senators supporting, 55 in total, opponents successfully filibustered the legislation.

Over the years, several lifesaving measures have been blocked from a vote by the filibuster. These bills include Universal Background Checks, a federal Assault Weapons Ban, and a ban on high-capacity magazines.

Every time common-sense gun violence prevention legislation fails to overcome the filibuster, lives are needlessly lost.

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The Senate has already reformed the filibuster – they can do it again

Since at least 1806, the procedural filibuster has been built into the Senate rules, though it wasn’t used in practice for over 30 years. It immediately became such a burden that Senators quickly tried to reform the rules to get around it.

We know that the Senate can abolish the filibuster because the Constitution explicitly allows them to make their own rules and because they have changed the filibuster rules in the past.

In 1917, the Senate established the “cloture” rule to end debate – before that, there was no mechanism to end a filibuster. In 1975, because the filibuster was so effective in stopping Senate progress on civil rights legislation, they changed the rules again to lower the threshold for ending a filibuster.

Most recently, the Senate changed the rules again to allow a simple majority of 51 to confirm federal judges, Cabinet Members, and Supreme Court Justices. If 51 votes are enough for a lifetime appointment for a judge to the highest court, it should be enough to pass common-sense gun laws.

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