Dems shift terror debate to guns

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Democrats are seeking to limit the political fallout from the attack in San Bernardino, Calif., by pressing for legislation that would prevent terrorism suspects from buying a gun.

Leaders in the party think they have a winning message in pushing legislation that would ban gun sales to people on the federal terror watch list, and have made the bill a focal point of their response to the shooting.

{mosads}Throughout the week, House Democrats repeatedly interrupted floor proceedings with protest procedural votes aimed at calling attention to the measure authored by Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.). Senate Democrats and the White House have talked up the bill as well.

The aggressive push underscores Democrats’ desire to address public fears about terrorism without attacking President Obama, who is under fire from the GOP for his handling of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). 

“I think it does resonate with people right now when there’s obviously enormous concern around the wake of the Paris attacks, and now this attack, that it seems hard to imagine that it would be the law. That you would legally be allowed to buy a weapon when you can’t even get on an airplane,” said Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.), who represents the district where a deadly shooting took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School three years ago.

“When we don’t know, when in doubt, we should not proceed to sell them a gun,” Esty said.

The drumbeat of Democratic activity around the issue has been constant.

House Democrats filed a discharge petition to attempt to force a vote, held press conferences, compelled votes on motions to adjourn to stall scheduled floor proceedings, and backed a resolution from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to force a vote.

Pelosi’s privileged resolution, which under House rules had to be debated immediately, argued that the lack of votes on gun-control legislation in response to mass shootings threatened “the integrity of the legislative process.” 

“By refusing to act, we disgrace the House, we dishonor the American people, and we erode America’s faith in our democracy,” Pelosi said.

The House rejected Pelosi’s measure in a largely party line 242-173 procedural vote.

Senate Democrats have used similar tactics.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) offered an amendment to an ObamaCare repeal bill last week that would allow the attorney general to block a gun sale to a terrorist suspect. But it failed in a 45-54 vote. 

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) also tried to pass the measure again this week by unanimous consent, but was blocked by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). The Texas Republican suggested amending the legislation so that the government could delay a terror suspect from buying a gun for up to 72 hours while obtaining a court to approve blocking the sale, but Democrats objected. 

King’s bill would grant the attorney general authority to deny a gun sale or transfer if it is determined the individual has been engaged in terrorist activities and would likely use the weapon to carry out such an act. People denied the ability to purchase a gun would be able to challenge the ruling. 

King and the other two centrist Republican cosponsors of the bill have not joined with Democrats in recent days to urge a vote on the measure. 

Many Republicans say that the proposal is a misguided response that fails to address complications with the government’s terror watch list.

Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) said he was accidentally put on the government’s no-fly list while serving as a state senator a decade ago due to a case of mistaken identity with an Irish Republican Army activist whom “the British government was mad at.”

While McClintock said he was able to get himself off the no-fly list months later with the help of the California state Senate’s Sergeant at Arms office, he warned that average Americans would likely encounter far more difficulty.

“The concept that the left is seeking to instill in our law is that mere suspicion by a bureaucrat is sufficient to deny law-abiding American citizens their constitutional rights under the law,” McClintock said in a House floor speech.

Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) accused Democrats of creating a “distraction” to avoid discussing a broader strategy to defeat ISIS. 

“Even though this has been a great distraction by the other side, I think, to blur the fact that the current administration has no policy in place to defeat terrorism, to defeat ISIS, I think we need to keep our eye on the ball,” Newhouse said. 

Republicans further note that the legislation wouldn’t have necessarily prevented the San Bernardino shooting, since the two suspects in the case were not known to have been on any watch list. The shooters, who authorities say pledged allegiance to ISIS, were able to buy weapons legally.

Still, there have been signs that the Democratic argument in favor of the bill is putting Republicans on the defensive. At least two of the GOP’s 2016 presidential candidates, Donald Trump and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), have said they are open to the proposal.

“In theory, I do not have a huge problem” with the plan, Christie said, though he called it a “distraction.” 

Democrats are giving every indication of keeping the issue in the spotlight for as long as they can.

“How can somebody who pledges allegiance to ISIS be allowed to purchase a gun here in America? We would never give a set of keys to somebody who was drunk to get behind a wheel,” Rep. Donald Norcross (D-N.J.) said on the House floor.

Tags Chris Murphy Dianne Feinstein Donald Trump John Cornyn

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