Under pressure, senators formulate gun
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[June 18, 2016]
By Richard Cowan and Julia Edwards
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Some Republican
senators tried on Friday to craft a compromise bill to impose limited
gun restrictions in the face of pressure from Democrats and public rage
over the Orlando mass shooting, the deadliest in modern U.S. history.
A gunman killed 49 people at the Orlando, Florida, gay nightclub
last Sunday, sparking a scramble over competing gun measures in the
While past gun-control measures have failed to clear Congress, the
massacre, coupled with public pressure and a suggestion by
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump that he can work with
gun rights lobbyists to bring about change, may be changing the
Republicans over the years have blocked gun control measures saying
they step on Americans' right to bear arms as guaranteed under the
U.S. Constitution. During a week-long Senate debate, Democrats
generally have criticized proposed Republican measures as being
Republicans and Democrats have offered four separate proposals to
expand background checks on gun buyers and curb gun sales for people
on terrorism "watch lists." But they seem destined to fail because
of partisan politics and a requirement that any proposal muster 60
of the 100 votes in the U.S. Senate.
MAINE SENATOR LEADING EFFORT
Republican Susan Collins of Maine, leading the new effort, is
considering a more tailored approach. It would prevent the sale of
guns to terrorism suspects whose names appear on either the
government's "no-fly" list, which bans them from boarding planes, or
a so-called "selectee" list that requires additional screening at
airports, her office said in an emailed statement.
These lists are much shorter than a broad terrorism watch list kept
by the FBI.
Collins' measure also includes a five-year "look-back" provision
that would notify the government if someone who had been on the
"no-fly" or "selectee" list in the last five years, but was dropped,
purchases a gun. "That would allow the FBI to put the individual
under surveillance or take other appropriate action it deems
necessary," Collins' office said.
The gun control issue is deeply divisive and there have been no
major restrictions passed since 1994, when Congress imposed a ban on
semi-automatic assault weapons. That expired after 10 years.
About 71 percent of Americans, including eight out of 10 Democrats
and nearly six out of 10 Republicans, favor at least moderate
regulations and restrictions on guns, according to a Reuters/Ipsos
poll conducted from Monday to Thursday. That was up from 60 percent
in late 2013 and late 2014.
Vice President Joe Biden weighed in on the debate, urging a public
groundswell in support of banning the type of weapons that have been
used in mass shootings. "Assault weapons and high-capacity magazines
should be banned from civilian ownership," Biden said on Friday.
Both the gunman in the Orlando attack, Omar Mateen, and the married
couple who carried out a December mass shooting that killed 14
people in San Bernardino, California, were thought to have been
inspired by militant Islamist groups abroad.
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A gun rights supporter openly carries two pistols strapped to his
leg during a rally in support of the Michigan Open Carry gun law in
Romulus, Michigan April 27, 2014. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
PROPOSALS NEXT WEEK
Collins' proposal likely would be offered in the Republican-led
Senate sometime next week, provided the four other gun-control
proposals fail to pass on Monday. Collins is working on the
legislation with Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona and Kelly Ayotte of
New Hampshire; she has also been talking to Democrats.
A senior Democratic aide said that Democrats have concerns that
under Collins' bill, some people credibly suspected of involvement
in terrorism would not be covered by the weapons ban.
Collins told reporters on Thursday that barring everyone on
terrorism watch lists from weapons purchases carried with it the
risk of affecting people who have been swept onto the lists without
U.S. authorities maintain several watch lists - the Federal Bureau
of Investigation maintains three and the Office of the Director of
National Intelligence runs one database. People are placed on such
lists based on the threat level they are believed to pose.
"What we’re trying to do is not deny constitutional rights to a
large group of individuals" who find themselves on watch lists
despite the fact that there might not be credible evidence of
potential criminal intentions, Collins said.
At least one Senate Democrat, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, has
been involved in the talks, her spokeswoman said.
"I think she (Collins) is sincerely committed to finding a way to
work this out," said U.S. Senator Chris Murphy who, along with
fellow Democrats, set the U.S. Capitol abuzz by talking on the
Senate floor for nearly 15 straight hours this week to demand that
Congress act on gun control.
Murphy said it was too early to say whether any Democrats would get
on board with her approach.
On Friday, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender
advocacy group in the United States, the Human Rights Campaign, said
it would push for curtailing access to assault-style rifles,
expanding background checks for firearms buyers and limiting the
ability of suspected terrorists to purchase guns.
(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell and Doina Chaicu; Editing by
Frances Kerry and Howard Goller)
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