WASHINGTON — The political battle over gun control re-emerged Monday after the Orlando terrorist attack as the presidential candidates clashed over the issue and Senate Democrats relaunched a measure to stop members of terrorist watch lists from buying guns.
Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, called for tighter background checks and an assault weapons ban, but her Republican rival Donald Trump rejected those measures and said he would stand with the National Rifle Association in support of the Second Amendment.
After Clinton and President Barack Obama called for gun legislation, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Democratic colleagues said in a phone call with reporters they’ll try again to pass the watch list bill this week.
Schumer argued it’s possible the bill would have stopped Orlando gunman Omar Mateen from acquiring the assault weapon and handgun he used to kill 49 people and wound 53 others in an LGBT nightclub.
But Schumer acknowledged that the legislation, sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), could run into the same wall it hit in December when she proposed it after the mass shooting by terrorists in San Bernardino — and majority Senate Republicans voted it down in a near party-line vote.
“Now we’re living with the consequences of that vote, because Senator Feinstein’s carefully crafted legislation would have allowed the FBI to prevent Mr. Mateen from buying the guns he did, and as we know he bought them very recently,” Schumer said.
“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,” he said.
Feinstein’s bill would allow the attorney general to block the sale of guns to anyone suspected by the FBI of being involved in or supporting a terrorist act, as well as anyone already on one of the terrorist watch lists.
Schumer said Democrats might try to attach Feinstein’s measure as an amendment to the funding bill for the Justice Department and other federal agencies that are being considered by the Senate this week.
An aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had no comment. But the aide pointed to a bill offered by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) last year that would also allow authorities to block sales of guns to suspected terrorists, but only after a court proceeding. It, too, fell short of the necessary votes.
Meanwhile, in their speeches on terrorism, Clinton and Trump took opposite sides on gun-control bills.
“It’s essential that we stop terrorists from getting the tools they need to carry out the attack,” Clinton said in an address on terrorism while in Cleveland. “And that is especially true when it comes to assault weapons like those used in Orlando and San Bernardino.”
But Trump, speaking later in Manchester, N.H., rejected that approach. “So she said her solution is to ban guns. They tried that in France ... and 130 people were murdered,” he said, referring to the terrorist attack in Paris in November. “Not going to happen.”