The political spat over gun-control measures is expected to pick up momentum as lawmakers prepare to tussle over a homeland security bill that could give the U.S. Attorney General the authority to deny the sale of firearms or explosives to suspected terrorists.
The Homeland Safety and Security Act was introduced several days after Democrats staged a sit-in on the U.S. House floor and called for gun-purchase limits on people whose names were on the no-fly list. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, who was presiding when members began the sit-in, declared the House in recess. Rep. Scott Peters, a California Democrat, drew the nation’s attention to the partisan conflict when he bypassed the blackout by turning to his Periscope app to live-stream the protest.
But the Democrats’ effort seems unlikely to move gun legislation forward. The homeland security bill that would give them some of the gun-control measures they have been asking for is in jeopardy. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Michigan, has attached an amendment to the bill that would strip the U.S. Attorney General of the authority to prevent weapons from getting into the hands of known or suspected terrorists.
The congressional committee charged with reviewing amendments attached to various bills was supposed to discuss Amash’s amendment in a public form on Tuesday. The committee decided to table that discussion.
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North Carolina Democrats have increased their push for “no fly, no buy” gun legislation as well as background checks in recent months. Part of their zeal is tied to a June 12 terror attack at a Florida nightclub that left 49 people dead. Rep. Alma Adams, D-Charlotte, said in a statement that the majority of her constituents favor tightened restrictions.
“This is why I cosponsored a bill to strengthen our gun laws by providing for universal background checks and closing loop holes that allow prohibited purchasers to obtain firearms,” Adams said.
She also cosponsored a bill that prevents suspected terrorists from obtaining firearms and explosives licenses.
“These commonsense bipartisan bills strengthen our gun laws while helping stop the gun violence epidemic that’s plaguing our communities,” she said.
Now, she and other Democrats face a new political storm.
Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-New York, crafted legislation prior to the terror attack that requests that the U.S. Attorney General be notified of a request to transfer a firearm to a known or suspected terrorist and be allowed to determine whether that person was the subject of an ongoing terrorism investigation or perhaps in need of being investigated. The country’s top legal authority would then have a three-day window in which to delay the gun sale. Amash contends the bill to be unconstitutional.
“The bill allows the government to prohibit gun transfers to Americans who have not been charged with – let alone convicted of – any criminal or terrorist activities,” he said in a social media statement. “Under the bill’s constitutionally inadequate process, the targeted individual receives a basic hearing, not a jury trial, and the judge can restrict the individual’s gun rights upon nothing more than a showing of ‘probable cause to believe’ that he or she will someday be a terrorist.”
In the Senate, Democrats blocked similar legislation.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, has twice tried to pass a gun-control measure similar to the one that Zeldin proposed. Cornyn, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s crime and terrorism subcommittee, said he wanted the U.S. Attorney General to establish a process that would allow law enforcement officials to be immediately notified if someone investigated as a known or suspected terrorist within the past five years attempted to buy a gun. He crafted legislation that would provide that authority to the U.S. Attorney General and allow for a delay of the gun sale for up to three business days.
“Our colleagues want to make this about gun control when what we should be making this about is the fight to eliminate Islamic extremism that is the root cause for what happened in Orlando,” he said in a June 20 speech on the U.S. Senate floor. “My colleagues in many ways want to treat the symptoms without fighting the disease.”
Cornyn’s legislative efforts did not gather enough support to move forward. Congressional records show that Democrat senators stonewalled both pieces of legislation. Only two Democrat senators – Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia – sided with the Republican effort to tighten up security.
Dan Yoken, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, said that Senate Democrats opposed the bill because it was bad legislation.
Reid, D-Nevada, previously defended the stonewall approach.
“The Grassley and Cornyn amendments are political stunts that are meaningless in doing something to stop gun violence,” he said in a June 20 press statement. “These are amendments that divert attention from real legislation. Why? So Republicans can say, ‘Hey look, we tried.’ And all the time they are cheerleaders for the bosses of the NRA.”
The Associated Press contributed.
Maggie Ybarra, 202-383-6048 @MolotovFlicker