Democrats push to pre­vent gun sales to terror sus­pects

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

WASH­ING­TON: Con­gres­sional Democrats are try­ing to build sup­port for an ef­fort to bar gun pur­chases by terror sus­pects, hop­ing to take ad­van­tage of the same pub­lic anx­i­eties about se­cu­rity that gave Repub­li­cans a ring­ing House vic­tory. The Demo­cratic push seems likely to fall vic­tim to op­po­si­tion from the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion and con­gres­sional gun-rights back­ers, chiefly Repub­li­cans, who have smoth­ered firearms curbs for years. If the Repub­li­cans who con­trol Congress block votes on the pro­posal, Democrats hope to profit po­lit­i­cally by win­ning sym­pa­thy from an­gry vot­ers.

“By leav­ing this ter­ror­ist loop­hole open, Repub­li­cans are leav­ing ev­ery com­mu­nity in Amer­ica vul­ner­a­ble to at­tacks by ter­ror­ists armed with as­sault ri­fles and ex­plo­sives pur­chased legally, in broad daylight,” Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Harry Reid said Fri­day in a writ­ten state­ment. The bill by Sen Dianne Fe­in­stein would have the at­tor­ney gen­eral com­pile names of known and sus­pected ter­ror­ists, likely draw­ing from huge lists the gov­ern­ment al­ready keeps. Fed­er­ally li­censed gun deal­ers would be barred from sell­ing firearms to peo­ple on that list if gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials be­lieved they planned to use the weapons for ter­ror­ism.

Sur­veil­lance

Gun deal­ers are pro­hib­ited from sell­ing to 10 cat­e­gories of peo­ple, in­clud­ing many con­victed crim­i­nals or those with se­vere mentally ill­ness. But peo­ple ap­pear­ing on the gov­ern­ment’s terror watch lists - in­clud­ing those kept off from air­lines - are not au­to­mat­i­cally dis­qual­i­fied from buy­ing weapons from gun deal­ers. The FBI is no­ti­fied when a back­ground check for the pur­chase of firearms or ex­plo­sives gen­er­ates a match with the watch list, and agents of­ten use that in­for­ma­tion to step up sur­veil­lance on sus­pects.

By law, peo­ple can try per­suad­ing the Jus­tice Depart­ment to re­move their names from terror lists or can file law­suits chal­leng­ing their in­clu­sion. The lists are over­whelm­ingly com­posed of for­eign­ers. Be­tween 2004 and 2014, peo­ple on one terror watch list un­der­went back­ground checks to buy guns 2,233 times and were al­lowed to make the pur­chase 91 per­cent of the time, ac­cord­ing to a March re­port by the Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice, an in­ves­tiga­tive agency of Congress.

NRA spokes­woman Jen­nifer Baker noted that there have been nu­mer­ous in­stances of in­no­cent peo­ple mis­tak­enly added to terror lists. She also ac­cused Democrats of try­ing to take ad­van­tage of height­ened pub­lic alarm fol­low­ing last week’s at­tacks in Paris, which claimed at least 130 lives and for which the Is­lamic State, which has also threat­ened the US, has claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity. “It is ap­palling that an­ti­gun politi­cians are ex­ploit­ing the Paris ter­ror­ist at­tacks to push their gun-con­trol agenda and dis­tract from Pres­i­dent Obama’s failed for­eign pol­icy,” Baker said.

Fe­in­stein’s mea­sure echoes leg­is­la­tion that the late Sen Frank Laut­en­berg pro­posed re­peat­edly over the last decade and that Rep Peter King has long pushed. None of those mea­sures has ever re­ceived a vote. Fe­in­stein in­tro­duced her bill in Fe­bru­ary. But last week’s mass killings in Paris have in­jected new life into ter­ror­ism and pub­lic safety as top-tier po­lit­i­cal is­sues.

Just Thurs­day, Repub­li­cans took ad­van­tage of vot­ers’ se­cu­rity jit­ters and mus­cled leg­is­la­tion through the House pre­vent­ing Syr­ian and Iraqi refugees from en­ter­ing the US un­til the ad­min­is­tra­tion tight­ens re­stric­tions on their en­try. Forty-seven Democrats voted for the bill, ig­nor­ing a veto threat by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, who said the cur­rent screen­ing sys­tem is strong and ac­cused Repub­li­cans of play­ing on pan­icked vot­ers. House Speaker Paul Ryan did not re­spond di­rectly when asked Thurs­day if he fa­vored bar­ring peo­ple on terror lists from buy­ing guns. “We are just be­gin­ning this process of re­assess­ing all of our se­cu­rity stances,” he said.

Don­ald Ste­wart, spokesman for Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell said McCon­nell has not said whether he would be open to a vote on Fe­in­stein’s bill. But op­po­si­tion from Repub­li­cans and some Democrats to curb­ing firearms runs deep, and such leg­is­la­tion would re­quire sup­port from 60 of the 100 sen­a­tors. Democrats could not at­tain that mar­gin even when they had a Se­nate ma­jor­ity in the months af­ter the 2012 mas­sacre of 20 first-graders and six adults in New­town, Con­necti­cut.

Though the Se­nate had show­down votes on gun curbs in early 2013, it did not re­visit the is­sue as the 2014 elec­tions ap­proached and Reid opted to pro­tect vul­ner­a­ble Democrats from po­ten­tially an­ger­ing con­stituents. The GOP-run House has held no votes on ma­jor gun con­trol mea­sures since the New­town killings. Fe­in­stein’s bill isn’t the only gun-re­lated mea­sure Democrats may pursue. A mea­sure by Sen Dick Durbin would bar gun sales to for­eign­ers in the US from the 38 coun­tries from which visi­tors need not have visas. — AP

SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota: A man uses a snow blower to clear the side­walk near his house dur­ing the first snow of the sea­son on Fri­day. — AP

WASH­ING­TON: In this June 2, 2015 file photo, Sen Dianne Fe­in­stein speaks with re­porters on Capi­tol Hill. — AP

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