Gun lobby senators again fail to protect

It is not surprising that the American public is responding to an attack as hateful and barbaric as the Orlando mass shooting with such compassion, such strength, such resolve.

Nor, at this point, is it surprising how the gun lobby and its allies in Congress are responding.

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The champions of common sense show leadership – filibustering into the wee hours and demanding a vote on constitutional gun measures that can save lives.

Meanwhile, gun lobby senators resort to the same-old decoys and distractions.

This (Monday) afternoon – in the face of overwhelming pressure from an outraged public – the U.S. Senate will hold votes on four gun proposals. Two of the proposals are strong. The two others would either weaken current law or make zero impact.

This is not the first time that gun lobby senators have pulled this trick, either.

Back in 2013, after Newtown? They blocked bipartisan legislation requiring background checks on more gun sales, the single most effective policy for keeping guns out of dangerous hands. To give themselves political cover, they supported what they labeled a “background check” bill. Only, the bill would not require checks on any additional gun sales. Instead, it would roll back the law that blocks people with severe mental illness from buying guns, and would automatically restore a person’s gun rights the second he/she leaves a psychiatric hospital after being involuntarily committed.

To be clear: this is not a “background check” proposal. In fact, it would gut current law and increase access to guns for the mentally ill. Fortunately, it failed after Newtown. Now, senators desperate not to cross the NRA are trotting it out again.

And back in December, after San Bernardino? And again, after Orlando? Twice now, Sen. John CornynJohn CornynTrump's immigration push faces Capitol Hill buzzsaw The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Restrictive state abortion laws ignite fiery 2020 debate Sinema, Gallagher fastest lawmakers in charity race MORE (R-TX) will have introduced bogus “terror gap” legislation with the blessing of NRA headquarters.

At long last, Cornyn and company seem to acknowledge the danger of suspected terrorists having such easy access to guns. In its particulars, though, the NRA-Cornyn bill is a red herring.

For nearly a decade now, leaders in both parties – with the endorsement of both the Bush and Obama Administrations – have been trying to give the FBI authority to block gun sales to suspected terrorists. Already, since 2004, people on the terrorist watch lists have bought guns more than 2,000 times from federally licensed dealers. In the last year alone, Orlando is the fourth mass shooting that the FBI has investigated as an act of terrorism.

The carnage is real. The threat of future attacks is real. And yet, for nearly a decade, the gun lobby has repeatedly blocked efforts to close the “terror gap.”

Of course, supporting guns for suspected terrorists is politically untenable. So NRA lobbyists came up with the Cornyn bill. Its supporters boast that they back a counter-terrorism bill. That claim comes in handy, especially when you are talking to voters in an election year.

The problem with the Cornyn bill? It is unworkable – and absurdly so. It includes a legal standard that makes it nearly impossible for the FBI to block gun sales to suspected terrorists.

To block a gun sale, the Cornyn bill would require that the FBI demonstrate in court that a person either has committed, will commit, or has conspired to commit an act of terrorism.

Think about it. A person has committed an act of terrorism, and we are supposed to debate his right to buy a gun? That person already would have been arrested and indicted on felony terrorism charges. So the Cornyn bill is meaningless on that point.

And as for a person who, the authorities can prove, will commit or has conspired to commit a terrorist act? Again, is this even a debate? We should incapacitate that person.

After San Bernardino, on the same day senators first voted on the Cornyn bill, they rejected another, actually substantive “terror gap” proposal. That proposal is up for another vote on Monday. If it had been enacted six months ago, it could have given authorities the discretion to block a gun sale to the Orlando shooter – who was twice placed on a terrorist watch list, investigated by the FBI as a suspected terrorist, and had a history of making violent threats.

The Cornyn bill, by contrast? It would have done nothing to stop Orlando. It will not prevent deaths. It only protects politicians.

The American people are watching, though. After a series of high-profile tragedies, and amid the thousands of largely ignored shootings in cities and towns every year, the public sees we face a clear and present danger. 

Smart gun policy is smart national security policy.

And yet still, gun lobby senators would rather play politics with our lives and liberties.

John Feinblatt is the president of Everytown for Gun Safety.