House vote proves gun lobby allies playing same old game
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The latest chapter in the country’s changing gun politics will play out in the House this week.

Too bad that the gun proposal up for consideration is yesterday’s news.


After the worst mass shooting in our modern history, after an historic filibuster and round of gun safety votes in the Senate, and after an unprecedented sit-in on the House floor, House leaders have readied their response. They’ve put together a package of counter-terrorism measures, including a bogus proposal backed by the National Rifle Association and with which Washington is well familiar by now.

The proposal first failed in December, when Sen. John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 spending wars | Biden looks to clean up oil comments | Debate ratings are in The Hill's Campaign Report: Obama to hit the campaign trail l Biden's eye-popping cash advantage l New battleground polls favor Biden Quinnipiac poll finds Biden, Trump tied in Texas MORE (R-TX) introduced it. It failed in the Senate again last month. Now it’s back, this time in the House and with a slight tweak (which only waters it down). And it deserves to fail again. 

Why try to bring this zombie gun lobby “solution” back to life? It’s an election year. First after the San Bernardino attack and again after Orlando, senators got the chance to go on the record as voting to keep guns out of the hands of suspected terrorists. That’s good politics, of course. Over 80 percent of the public agrees that we should close the so-called “Terror Gap” and not allow terror suspects to buy guns.

Not all Terror Gap proposals are created equal, though. Read the letter of the gun lobby’s, and you see it isn’t serious.

It’s unworkable. Try to enforce it, and the FBI would find it easier to indict a suspected terrorist than it would be to block a gun purchase. Try to adhere to the legal standard it establishes, and law enforcement would have to show, in court and within 72 hours, that a suspect will actually commit an act of terrorism.

That’s a standard so high as to be meaningless. Imagine that the feds can show that someone will commit an act of terrorism. Imagine that person goes to a federally licensed dealer and tries to buy a gun. We’re supposed to go to court and debate allowing the gun sale to proceed?

The only debate should be which penitentiary to send that person to. When you can prove someone will commit terrorism, you incapacitate him. Making it more difficult to block a gun sale than it is to indict someone accomplishes exactly nothing.

Yet that’s the do-nothing proposition that Congress will vote on for the third time in the past seven months – all so that gun lobby lawmakers can pretend, with a straight face, that they’re listening to their constituents (and to reason) and trying to stop suspected terrorists from arming up. 

The threat is real. Over the past decade, while we’ve debated the due process and gun rights of suspected terrorists, people on federal terrorist watch lists (including the 2009 Fort Hood shooter) have passed gun-sale background checks more than 2,000 times. Al Qaeda famously instructed its followers in the West to take advantage of America’s porous laws and buy guns. 

Starting with the George W. Bush Administration, lawmakers have put substantive, bipartisan Terror Gap proposals on the table. Like clockwork, the gun lobby and its allies have banded together to vote them down. And now, perhaps thinking that the third time’s the charm for their red herring of a Terror Gap plan, they’ve brought it forward once again.

There are better options here.

One Senate proposal, in contrast with the Cornyn bill, would give the Department of Justice the authority to deny a gun sale to a potential buyer who poses a threat to public safety, if DOJ reasonably suspects that the buyer is involved in terrorism. It respects the buyer’s due process rights and allows, but does not require, DOJ to block a sale. Such a proposal is sensible and practicable – exactly what the Cornyn bill and now the House proposal is not.

If House leaders actually wanted to keep guns out of the wrong hands, they would buck the NRA and pair a vote on Terror Gap with a vote to require background checks on all gun sales – a policy fix that 90 percent of Americans support. If Congress wanted to reduce gun deaths, it could start by closing all the legal loopholes and make it that much harder for felons, domestic abusers, and suspected terrorists to get guns and destroy lives.

Instead, we get the same old political games, plus a summer rerun.

We get a weak, retread Terror Gap proposal.

And we get the gun lobby’s allies showing, once again, that they’re not up to the task of protecting public safety and national security.

John Feinblatt is the president of Everytown for Gun Safety.