Se­nate ef­fort on guns de­volves into par­ti­san­ship

Law­mak­ers look to elec­tions for clar­ity

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN

They agreed on the need to “do some­thing” about guns in the wake of Or­lando, but sen­a­tors couldn’t find the sweet spot Mon­day, in­stead re­treat­ing to par­ti­san cor­ners and stalemat­ing on com­pet­ing plans to try to keep firearms out of the hands of ter­ror­ists.

Democrats said Repub­li­cans’ pro­pos­als didn’t go far enough, while GOP law­mak­ers said the Democrats’ plans ran roughshod over Sec­ond Amend­ment rights, deny­ing Amer­i­cans the right to buy a gun if they ended up on one of the FBI’s se­cret and er­ror-prone watch lists.

All sides knew the outcome be­fore­hand, and party lead­ers seemed con­tent to take the is­sue to vot­ers in Novem­ber, hop­ing the elec­tions will pro­vide clar­ity that has es­caped the de­bate for more than a decade.

“Mr. and Mrs. Amer­ica, you have to stand up, and you have to say, ‘I’m go­ing to vote only for peo­ple who will do some­thing to close the ter­ror gap,’” said Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein, the Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat who led the ter­ror­ist watch list pro­posal. “Maybe, just maybe, this next elec­tion can pro­duce some­thing.”

But rank-and-file Repub­li­cans blamed both sides, say­ing nei­ther ex­treme seemed to want to find a mid­dle-ground so­lu­tion.

“Why aren’t we work­ing on some­thing that could ac­tu­ally get done?” pleaded Sen. Pa­trick J. Toomey, a Penn­syl­va­nia Repub­li­can who tried to bro­ker a com­pro­mise af­ter the 2012 Sandy Hook shoot­ing, but saw those ef­forts doomed by the same grid­lock that still pre­vails four years, and dozens of mass-shoot­ing deaths, later.

Ter­ror­ist-in­spired gun­man Omar Ma­teen reignited the de­bate ear­lier this month with his as­sault on a gay night­club in Or­lando. Armed with a Sig Sauer MCX ri­fle and a Glock hand­gun, he mur­dered 49 peo­ple and wounded 53 oth­ers over the span of a few hours.

Ma­teen pur­chased both firearms legally de­spite hav­ing twice been un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the FBI for con­nec­tions to ter­ror­ism. He had been listed on one of the FBI’s watch lists, but was re­moved when agents de­cided they couldn’t make a case against him.

Gun con­trol ad­vo­cates said his pur­chases ex­posed holes in the sys­tem.

Mrs. Fe­in­stein said Congress should clamp down on sales to the ap­prox­i­mately 1 mil­lion peo­ple who ap­pear on any of sev­eral FBI watch lists. She said those who try to buy a gun but who are on the banned lists can chal­lenge the de­ci­sion in court — though au­thor­i­ties can in­sist on se­crecy to pre­serve ter­ror­ism in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

“To me this isn’t a gun con­trol is­sue, it’s re­ally a na­tional se­cu­rity is­sue,” she said.

Repub­li­cans, how­ever, said the FBI lists are shrouded in mys­tery, rid­dled with er­rors and are main­tained only by the FBI, with­out any ju­di­cial over­sight. That means Amer­i­cans could be de­nied their Sec­ond Amend­ment rights with­out due process of law.

Sen. John Cornyn of­fered a coun­ter­pro­posal that would have de­layed a gun sale to peo­ple be­ing in­ves­ti­gated for ter­ror­ism for three days, giv­ing au­thor­i­ties the chance to make a case in court.

Nei­ther Mrs. Fe­in­stein’s nor Mr. Cornyn’s pro­pos­als earned the 60 votes needed to ad­vance, though Mr. Cornyn’s did bet­ter, gar­ner­ing 53 votes com­pared to Mrs. Fe­in­stein’s 47 votes.

Sen­a­tors also shot down com­pet­ing Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic pro­pos­als to ex­pand men­tal health re­port­ing to the back­ground check data­base. The votes pro­duced in­tense pas­sions and com­pet­ing in­ter­ests.

Sen. Joe Don­nelly, In­di­ana Demo­crat, voted for all four plans, while Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, North Dakota Demo­crat, voted against all four.

Sen. Su­san M. Collins, a Maine Repub­li­can, voted against both Mrs. Fe­in­stein’s and Mr. Cornyn’s ter­ror­ist watch list plans. She’s work­ing on her own com­pro­mise.

But Sen. Kelly Ay­otte, a New Hamp­shire Repub­li­can who’s also try­ing to forge a com­pro­mise, voted for both the Fe­in­stein and Cornyn pro­pos­als, say­ing she wanted to send a sig­nal she’s will­ing to work with all sides.

“I hope that we can stop the pol­i­tics,” said Ms. Ay­otte, who is en­gaged in a fierce re-elec­tion bat­tle this year.

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Harry Reid called her “hyp­o­crit­i­cal” af­ter the vote, ques­tion­ing her mo­tives for her stance and pre­dict­ing vot­ers will toss her from of­fice.

“She’s do­ing ev­ery­thing but yoga on the Se­nate floor to try to jus­tify what she’s do­ing,” the Ne­vada Demo­crat said.

Law­mak­ers on both sides of the aisle said they wanted to find a way to stop ter­ror­ists from get­ting weapons, but couldn’t agree on how broadly to draw the net, nor on what should hap­pen once their name ap­pears on a watch list.

Mrs. Fe­in­stein, a past chair­woman of the Se­nate in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee, re­vealed some de­tails of the se­cret lists on the cham­ber floor Mon­day. She said the FBI’s no-fly list, which pre­vents peo­ple from board­ing air­planes, has about 81,000 names — though fewer than 1,000 of those are U.S. per­sons, mean­ing ei­ther a cit­i­zen or law­ful per­ma­nent res­i­dent.

A dif­fer­ent list, the Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s “se­lectee list,” has some 28,000 names, though fewer than 1,700 of them are U.S. per­sons.

But Mrs. Fe­in­stein wanted to cover far more peo­ple: the ap­prox­i­mately 1 mil­lion names on the FBI’s Ter­ror­ist Screen­ing Data­base, of whom fewer than 5,000 are U.S. per­sons, she said.

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