Do­ing noth­ing but faster than ever

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - Dana Mil­bank

— On May 24, the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee took up a pro­posal “to deny trans­fers of firearms to per­sons known or sus­pected to be en­gaged in con­duct re­lated to ter­ror­ism.” In a party-line vote, Repub­li­cans de­feated the plan 29 to 17.

Nine­teen days later, a man whom the FBI had in­ves­ti­gated as a pos­si­ble ter­ror­ist went into an Or­lando night­club and, claim­ing sol­i­dar­ity with the Is­lamic State, shot 49 peo­ple to death with weapons he bought legally.

The leg­is­la­tion couldn’t have pre­vented the mas­sacre; it wouldn’t have taken ef­fect for months. But it high­lights an ab­surd sit­u­a­tion: Law­mak­ers have known for a long time that those sus­pected of ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­i­ties can legally buy guns, but the Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity, putting Sec­ond Amend­ment ab­so­lutism above mod­est na­tional-se­cu­rity con­sid­er­a­tions, is re­fus­ing to fix the prob­lem.

At least twice be­fore, the same House com­mit­tee had votes on the same pro­posal, and both times it was also de­feated — in 2015, by a vote of 32 to 19, and 2013, 29 to 19. The Sen­ate, for its part, voted down sim­i­lar leg­is­la­tion in De­cem­ber, fol­low­ing the San Bernardino, Cal­i­for­nia, killings.

And Mon­day night, a week af­ter the Or­lando killings, this tragedy re­peated it­self as farce. Repub­li­cans de­feated Demo­cratic leg­is­la­tion to keep those on ter­ror­ism watch lists from get­ting guns. Democrats de­feated a fig-leaf mea­sure pro­posed by Repub­li­cans that would have made it vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to block those on the watch lists from get­ting guns. For kicks, law­mak­ers also voted down du­el­ing Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic pro­pos­als on gun-pur­chase back­ground checks.

Now the is­sue goes to the cam­paign trail, where pre­sump­tive Repub­li­can nom­i­nee Don­ald Trump said that the so­lu­tion to the Or­lando slay­ings was to have more club­go­ers car­ry­ing con­cealed guns so they could have shot “this son of a bitch.” Af­ter even the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion said it didn’t ap­prove of peo­ple car­ry­ing guns where al­co­hol is served, Trump walked back his re­marks.

The im­me­di­ate grid­lock was an in­di­ca­tion of how pro­fi­cient Wash­ing­ton has be­come at do­ing noth­ing. Af­ter the 2012 slaugh­ter of chil­dren in New­town, Con­necti­cut, it took the Sen­ate four months to de­feat the re­sult­ing gun-con­trol bills. This time, it took just nine days to kill re­forms.

Democrats are not with­out blame in the post-Or­lando fail­ure on Capi­tol Hill. In their rush to re­vive the push to ex­pand back­ground checks for

WASH­ING­TON

on­line and gun-show sales, they made the back­ground- check leg­is­la­tion, cham­pi­oned by Sen. Chris Murphy of Con­necti­cut, more ex­ten­sive than a bi­par­ti­san pro­posal taken up in 2013.

But on the ques­tion of clos­ing the “ter­ror gap” in gun laws, it re­ally isn’t a close call. The “no fly, no buy” pro­posal from Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein, D-Calif., was a mod­est idea: If you’re not al­lowed to board a plane be­cause of sus­pected ter­ror­ist ties, you also can’t buy a gun. The to­tal num­ber of Amer­i­cans and le­gal res­i­dents who would be blocked from gun sales un­der the pro­vi­sion: about 5,000 — in a na­tion of more than 320 mil­lion.

But Repub­li­cans re­sponded as if Pres­i­dent Obama him­self were go­ing door-to-door, con­fis­cat­ing ev­ery Amer­i­can’s guns. The no-fly-no-buy leg­is­la­tion “vi­o­lates the Sec­ond amend­ment, be­cause a fun­da­men­tal con­sti­tu­tional right can­not be in­fringed upon with­out due process of law,” pro­claimed Sen. Chuck Grass­ley, R-Iowa.

The due-process ar­gu­ment is a le­git­i­mate one, but Repub­li­cans, in­stead of mak­ing an at­tempt to toughen civil-lib­er­ties pro­tec­tions, went to the other ex­treme. The al­ter­na­tive bill by Sen. John Cornyn of Texas would have given the gov­ern­ment three days to prove a case against some­body on the watch list, or that per­son would be al­lowed a gun. Cornyn ad­mit­ted he was es­sen­tially re­quir­ing the gov­ern­ment to win a con­vic­tion in 72 hours: “If they are too dan­ger­ous to buy a firearm, they are too dan­ger­ous to be loose on our streets,” he said.

No doubt, a com­pro­mise could have been reached, if that were the pur­pose. Sen. Su­san Collins, RMaine, ever prag­matic, was draft­ing mid­dle-ground leg­is­la­tion that would block about half as many sus­pected ter­ror­ists as Fe­in­stein’s pro­posal.

Sen. Kelly Ay­otte, R-N.H., fac­ing a dif­fi­cult re-elec­tion in Novem­ber, pleaded with sen­a­tors to “stop play­ing po­lit­i­cal foot­ball with some­thing so im­por­tant” and get be­hind a “good-faith, work­able so­lu­tion” such as the Collins plan.

But such calls are likely to amount to just an­other way to bury the is­sue for the rest of the year. With just a few weeks left on the leg­isla­tive cal­en­dar, it will be dif­fi­cult for the nofly-no-buy is­sue to re­turn this year. Mon­day night was the best chance yet to block would-be ter­ror­ists from get­ting guns, and, as be­fore, the Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity chose not to act.

Dana Mil­bank is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at danamil­bank@wash­post.com.

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