Senate Democrats pledged Monday to reintroduce a bill banning persons on the terror watch list from purchasing weapons in the aftermath of Sunday morning’s massacre at an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
The massacre left at least 49 people dead and dozens more wounded. It was the deadliest mass shooting in US history.
The gunman, Omar Mateen, 29, was born in the US to Afghan parents, and, according to his father, was recently disturbed by seeing two men kissing in Miami.
The shooting is being investigated as an act of terror, as Mateen allegedly pledged allegiance to ISIS and other terror organisations ahead of the attack. The FBI confirmed that it had conducted two terror-related investigations into Mateen in recent years.
During a Monday conference call, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York said that, if the bill was passed when first brought before the Senate in December, the terror attack would have been avoided.
In December, just one day following the San Bernardino attacks, Senate Republicans rejected the bill stopping suspected terrorists from purchasing weapons. The counterargument to the bill is that, since individuals can be placed on the terror watch list — also referred to as the no-fly list — without due process, a citizen could be stripped of his or her Second Amendment right without due process.
The bill failed on a 54-45 party-line vote. North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp was the lone Democrat to vote against the bill while Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk was the lone Republican to vote in favour of it. Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat, did not vote.
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein sponsored the legislation, and argued, as she did again during the Monday conference call, that former President George W. Bush initially proposed the legislation in 2007.
“Now that we have lone wolves inspired by ISIL, even more the reason to do this than ever before,” Schumer said. “It made sense 10 years ago, it makes even more sense today.”
The Democratic senator said the bill might be tucked into a recent appropriations bill brought before the Senate by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid also insisted on Monday that his party will be bringing the bill before Congress “as soon as possible.”
“We’re just asking for people to come into this country and go out and buy a gun,” Feinstein said during the call with reporters, later adding, “Even if you’re a suspected terrorist, you can go out and buy a gun. And that’s just not right. So I hope there will be a change.”
Both presumptive presidential nominees Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton voiced their opinions on this issue during dueling Monday speeches. Trump promised to do nothing to in regards to promoting gun control legislation, while Clinton expressed solidarity with the Democratic senators.
“If the FBI is watching you for suspected terrorist links, you shouldn’t be able to just go buy a gun with no questions asked,” Clinton said. “You shouldn’t be able to exploit loopholes and evade criminal background checks by buying online or at a gun show. And yes, if you’re too dangerous to get on a plane, you are too dangerous to buy a gun in America.”
Schumer insisted Monday that the bill will do better this time around.
“The bottom line is we have to keep trying, and I believe our Republican colleagues, particularly so many of them now in a difficult political season, are going to find it very very difficult [to vote against the bill],” he said. “We’ve had two incidents: San Bernardino and now Orlando where this type of legislation would be relevant, making sure the terrorists don’t get guns.”
He added that the bill will include provisions for a “quick and speedy appeals process” for those placed on the terror watch list.
“Believe me,” he said. “President Bush wouldn’t have put together a bill that took away people’s legitimate rights.”
But, he said, rights don’t “trump everything.”
“We can have both,” he continued. “We can have people’s rights protected and we can have safety. And that’s what this legislation does. As I said, George Bush, who was hardly the strongest advocate of gun control in America, drafted it.”
Also on the conference call, Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal said “all rights have to be balanced.”
“No right is absolute,” he said, adding that the bill “would provide a due process to remove people from the list … that is an absolute requirement.”
“Many of our Republican colleagues who are hardline on individual rights on this amendment seem to blow those rights away on other amendments,” Schumer said. “Hardly consistent.”
“In terms of terrorism, this is the most effective piece of legislation we can pass,” he continued.
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