Insisting there’s little more authorities can do to spot self-radicalized terrorists ahead of time, Democrats — led by President Obama — said it’s time to deny attackers the access to guns that turn their rampages so deadly.
Senate Democrats even said the gunman who carried out the grisly attack in Orlando Sunday might have been blocked from getting weapons had Republicans approved a measure last year that would have prohibited the sale of firearms to those on the federal government’s no-fly list.
But presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump said the problem wasn’t guns in the hands of the attacker as much as it was the lack of guns in the hands of others at the Orlando nightclub Sunday morning.
“If you had guns in that room, even if you had a number of people having ‘em strapped to their ankle or strapped to their waist where bullets could have flown in the other direction right at him, you wouldn’t have had the same kind of a tragedy,” Mr. Trump said on CNN.
As yet another shooting tragedy grabbed the headlines, both sides in the gun debate retreated to familiar corners, hoping the weight of the latest incident would break gridlock that’s stalled action for years.
Mr. Obama said the Orlando attacker had crossed authorities’ radar before, but they couldn’t sustain an investigation, and little more could be done from a law enforcement side. But the president said efforts to try to halt radicalization, or to deny shooters weapons, could have saved lives.
“How easy it is for them to obtain weapons is, in some cases, going to make a difference as to whether they’re able to carry out attacks like this or not,” Mr. Obama said. “And we make it very easy for individuals who are troubled or disturbed or want to engage in violent acts to get very powerful weapons very quickly. And that’s a problem.”
The attacker, identified as Omar Mateen, had a Glock handgun and an AR-15 rifle and a number of ammunition magazines.
He bought them legally, even undergoing a background check and waiting out Florida’s dayslong “cooling off” period for taking possession of the handgun.
Democrats on Capitol Hill insisted he could have been blocked if Congress had approved legislation they pushed late last year to deny sales to those on the no-fly list.
The FBI had flagged Mateen for possible terrorism ties, but he was eventually removed from a watch list.
“Would they have blocked Mateen’s gun? I think it’s likely they would have, but we’ll never know because this law was not on the books,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.
Republicans said Democrats’ proposal would have been struck down by the courts because it denied people their Second Amendment rights without due process of law. The no-fly list is a secret document maintained by the federal government, reportedly riddled with errors and without regular judicial oversight.
“That’s a very politically charged issue there, because the terror watch list — nobody knows exactly how that’s assembled — there’s no due process rights,” Sen. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee, said on WTMJ radio.
The GOP tried to amend Democrats’ proposal last year to require judicial review of names that get listed, but Democrats refused that change.
Mr. Schumer said Democrats are likely to try again in the run-up to the November election.
“I believe that our Republican colleagues, particularly so many of them now in [a] difficult political season, are going to find it very, very difficult,” Mr. Schumer said. “Unfortunately, circumstances are going to force them to see the light and not just bow in obeisance to the NRA, whose positions on this issue are just simply extreme.”
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said on Monday that identifying and stopping such “lone wolves” would be a top priority for her as president — even as FBI Director James B. Comey defended the bureau’s previous work and said he didn’t necessarily think it should have done anything differently in how it handled Mateen.
Mrs. Clinton also went beyond the watch list measure to call for a ban on so-called assault weapons, saying that in both the Orlando and San Bernardino attacks, terrorists used “assault weapons” to “kill Americans.”
In December a radicalized husband-and-wife team killed 14 people and wounded more than 20 others in California. AR-15 semiautomatic rifles were used in both attacks.
“That was the same assault weapon used to kill those little children in Sandy Hook,” Mrs. Clinton said, referring to the December 2012 Newtown school shooting.
Mr. Trump, in a speech in New Hampshire, said leaders should focus on fighting the Islamic State overseas, and called on Muslims to report potential radicals here at home — without threatening Second Amendment rights.
“[Mrs. Clinton’s] plan is to disarm law-abiding Americans, abolishing the Second Amendment and leaving only the bad guys and terrorists with guns,” he said. “She wants to take away Americans’ guns, and then admit the very people who want to slaughter us.”
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