Dems launch new effort on guns after Orlando carnage

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Democrats are making a new push on gun control in response to the nightclub shooting in Orlando, focusing on a measure that would bar suspected terrorists from acquiring guns or explosives.

Although legislation to prevent anyone on the terrorism watch list from purchasing a gun was first proposed by the Justice Department under former President George W. Bush, almost the entire Senate Republican Conference voted to block it in December.

{mosads}Democrats think the calculus could change after the violence in Orlando, where 49 people were killed and 53 wounded or injured at a gay nightclub by a gunman who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria during his assault.

A nationwide CBS News/New York Times poll published at the beginning of the year showed that 83 percent of Americans support banning people on terror watch lists from buying guns, including 77 percent of self-identified Republicans and 85 percent of independents.

“How can these same Republicans campaign for reelection in good conscience knowing that they voted to block every sensible bill to address gun violence?” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) asked Monday on the Senate floor.

A senior aide to Reid on Monday tweeted and emailed to reporters a list of Republicans who voted in December to block the legislation, which was sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

“In December, Republicans had the opportunity to pass a commonsense measure that would prevent suspected terrorists from purchasing firearms, but instead they shamefully voted to leave the terrorist gun loophole open,” said Sadie Weiner, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

If efforts to move the legislation fail again this summer, Democratic strategists say their candidates will use the issue against Senate Republican incumbents in the fall.

While Democrats believe the Orlando shootings show the need for their measure, the man identified as carrying out the shootings was not on a terrorist watch list at the time of the carnage.

Omar Mateen, who bought an AR-15 rifle and a hand gun last week that were both used in the Orlando attack, was on an FBI terror watch list in 2013 and 2014 while being investigated for ties to terror groups.

But he was taken off it after law enforcement officials concluded their probe, failing to find sufficient evidence to keep him under surveillance.

Democrats argue the broad authority granted to the attorney general under Feinstein’s bill may have been enough to prevent Mateen from purchasing a gun within the past week, although they admit no one can know for sure because it never became law.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee accused Democrats of attempting to exploit the tragedy for political gain.

“It’s disappointing that in the wake of this tragedy, Democrats haven’t missed a beat in politicizing this horrific terror attack. Obtaining all the facts and strengthening our national security with a legitimate plan to defeat ISIS must be the first priority,” said Alleigh Marré, an NRSC spokeswoman.

Sen. Mark Kirk, a moderate Republican facing a difficult reelection this year in President Obama’s home state of Illinois, was the only Republican to vote for the Feinstein bill when it was last considered.

He is one of several Republicans running for reelection this year in states won in 2008 and 2012 by Obama.

Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the Senate Democrats’ chief political strategist who stands to become majority leader if his party recaptures the upper chamber, says lawmakers should begin talking about what’s doable in a Republican Congress.

“In terms of terrorism, this is the most effective piece of legislation we can pass,” Schumer told reporters on a Monday conference call. “We want to get something done.”

He said he personally supports legislation to ban assault weapons but sees little chance of it going anywhere in the current environment.

“This is the first thing we’re going to attempt because it’s the most relevant. That is not to say we wouldn’t do other things, and we’ll talk over what things,” he said.

Schumer cited legislation to expand background checks, which has broad public support, as another option.

It was a more calibrated approach than the one offered Monday by Hillary Clinton. The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee touted a ban on assault-style weapons as the first item on her list of proposed gun controls.

The White House chimed in with similarly strong rhetoric, calling the AR-15 a “weapon of war” and for it to be made illegal for civilian purchase.

Schumer and other Senate Democratic strategists argue the politics of gun control have changed in the last decade and in the wake of high-profile mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., Blacksburg, Va.’s Virginia Tech and San Bernardino, Calif.

Nevertheless, they appear mindful the issue has hurt Democratic candidates in the past.

“There are a lot of Senate races in states where that kind of ban is just going to fire up Republican voters and some marginal Democrats,” Jennifer Duffy, senior editor of The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan political handicapper, said of proposals to ban assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition clips. 

One such state is Pennsylvania, where Democrats are trying to knock off GOP Sen. Pat Toomey, who tried to inoculate himself from criticism on gun control by co-sponsoring a proposal in the last Congress to expand background checks.

Expanded background checks would be one thing, but going further to propose banning popular rifles such as the AR-15 could backfire on Democratic candidates.

“It’s a defining issue in Pennsylvania. We’ve had a lot of politicians that have fallen on their sword on gun control,” said former Rep. Ron Klink (D-Pa.), who ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 2000.

Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey (Pa.) on Monday proposed a more modest step than a ban on assault guns, introducing a bill to prohibit anyone convicted of a misdemeanor hate crime from buying or possessing a gun.

Katie McGinty, the Democratic nominee in the Senate race, supports banning suspected terrorists and people convicted of hate crimes from buying guns, her campaign said.

As for banning assault rifles, she says, “military style weapons and weaponry should be for the military.”

Tags Bob Casey Chuck Schumer Dianne Feinstein Harry Reid Hillary Clinton Mark Kirk

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