Ryan pushes back against terrorist watchlist legislation

Ryan pushes back against terrorist watchlist legislation
© Greg Nash
Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanGOP chairman to discuss Charlottesville as domestic terrorism at hearing Trump’s isolation grows GOP lawmaker: Trump 'failing' in Charlottesville response MORE (R-Wis.) is pushing back against legislation barring gun sales to those on the government's terrorist watchlists.
 
Democrats, joined by a handful of Republicans, are urging the tougher gun law in the wake of Sunday's shooting massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando. And Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpAssange meets U.S. congressman, vows to prove Russia did not leak him documents A history lesson on the Confederacy for President Trump GOP senator: Trump hasn't 'changed much' since campaign MORE, the GOP's presumptive presidential nominee, appeared to jump on board Wednesday in announcing he'll soon meet with leaders of the National Rifle Association (NRA) to discuss the reform. 
 
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But Ryan, who's opposed similar legislation in the past, suggested Thursday that he hasn't changed his tune following the Orlando tragedy. He cited several reasons for his reluctance to consider the proposal. 
 
First, he said the bill, dubbed "No fly, no buy," could trample on Second Amendment rights if it blocks gun sales to those put on the lists erroneously.  
 
"We want to make sure something like this doesn't happen again. … But as we look at how to proceed, we also want to make sure that we're not infringing upon people's legitimate constitutional rights," Ryan said during his weekly press conference in the Capitol. "That's important." 
 
Second, Ryan suggested the system currently in place — under which law enforcers are notified when those on the watch lists purchase firearms — is a suitable line of defense. He cited warnings from FBI Director James Comey that the Democrats' bill could compromise federal investigations by potentially tipping off suspected terrorists to those probes.
 
"If we do this wrong, like the president is proposing, we can actually blow our ongoing terrorist investigations," he said, paraphrasing Comey. "So we want to get this right so we don't undermine terrorist investigations." 
 
And third, Ryan said the focus on guns, post-Orlando, is misplaced. Congress instead should be looking at ways to tackle mental illness and rein in homegrown terrorism, he said. 
 
"Is going after the Second Amendment how you stop terrorism? No," Ryan said. 
 
"Let's not take our eye off the ball here. This is a person who was radicalized by Islamic radical terrorists, he claimed it was by ISIS," he added. "So we need to make sure that we're focusing on the real issue here, which is terrorism, the fact that people are becoming radicalized and committing these horrible acts of terrorism in our country. ... We need to have a better handle on homegrown jihad."
 
This shooter in the Orlando tragedy, Omar Mateen, had been scrutinized by the FBI in 2013 and 2014, but those investigations were ended for a lack of evidence and he was dropped from the government's watch lists. He purchased several firearms legally prior to Sunday's shooting, which left 49 dead and 53 injured.
 
The legislation endorsed by Obama and most Democrats empowers the Justice Department to block the sale of firearms indefinitely if the agency "has a reasonable belief" the buyer "may use a firearm in connection with terrorism."  
 
Most Republicans, joined by the NRA, reject the proposal as giving too much power to the attorney general to deny Second Amendment rights without due process. They're rallying behind an alternative proposal, sponsored by Sen. John CornynJohn CornynImmigration battlefield widens for Trump, GOP Congressional investigations — not just special counsels — strengthen our democracy Wrath of right falls on Google MORE (R-Texas), that would give the DOJ 72 hours to convince a judge that there's probable cause the prospective buyer would use the weapon in connection with terrorism — a bar too high, in the eyes of the Democratic critics. 
 
It's unclear which proposal Trump might favor. But he's said for months that those suspected of terrorism should not have access to guns, and on Wednesday he said he's taking that message to the NRA. 
 
"I will be meeting with the NRA, who has endorsed me, about not allowing people on the terrorist watch list, or the no fly list, to buy guns," Trump tweeted.
 
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the lead sponsor of the bill favored by the Democrats, said this week that Trump's support of the purchase ban "really could be the game changer" in moving legislation he's championed, unsuccessfully, since 2007.
 
"To have Donald Trump take this stand, I think it's very significant. I would support him on it 100 percent," King told CNN Wednesday.
 
"I know people have some objections. They say there's names on the list that don't belong there. Fine. We can find ways to sanitize that list," King added.
 
"But to me, at a time like this, to allow someone who is on the terror watch list, who could be under investigation by the FBI, to purchase a weapon just doesn't make sense."
 
Ryan, who's broken with Trump on a long list of policy priorities, said such disagreements are a natural part of any campaign, and he has no plans to rescind his previous endorsement of the presumptive nominee.
 
"We're going to agree to disagree on some things," Ryan said. "That's just the way things work."