Rep. Lee Zeldin filed a bill Friday to allow individuals on U.S. terrorist watch lists to buy guns unless the Justice Department stops them with a court order, countering legislation sponsored by Rep. Peter King that would automatically block those weapons sales.
The filing puts Long Island’s two Republican congressmen on opposite sides of a hotly debated issue — King, of Seaford, whose proposal has been embraced by Democrats, and Zeldin, of Shirley, whose measure is expected to be backed by most Republicans.
The issue has heated up as Democrats have mounted a campaign to pass King’s bill since the San Bernardino terror-related mass shooting that killed 14 on Dec. 2. They also have attacked Zeldin for not backing King’s bill.
There is now no legal bar to those on watch lists being able to buy guns, and a study found 2,043 of them passed background checks to purchase weapons from 2004 to 2014.
Zeldin and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), who proposed a similar bill, say the watch lists mistakenly include people with no ties to terrorism, and that a ban on weapons purchases would deprive them of their Second Amendment rights.
“My legislation would help prevent terrorists from purchasing firearms or explosives, while putting in place safeguards to ensure that the rights of law abiding Americans are protected,” Zeldin said in announcing his bill.
“It is unfortunate that some in Congress are pushing hard for an alternative that makes Americans guilty until proven innocent, denies necessary due process protections, and improperly targets law abiding citizens,” Zeldin said.
King, who said he first proposed his bill in 2007, said he’s glad people are finally paying attention to the issue. But he disputed Zeldin’s characterization of his measure.
“The procedures in my bill are more than adequate to protect constitutional rights,” King said. “If you don’t believe you belong on the list, there is a process to get off the list.”
The key difference between the bills is whether the burden of proof is on the individual of the government.
King’s bill bans all legal purchase of weapons or explosives by anyone suspected of terrorist ties — and it is up to that person to go to court to get off the watch list.
Zeldin’s bill allows anyone on a watch list to buy weapons or explosives — and it’s the government that must get a court order to block the transaction.
Zeldin’s legislation also gives the attorney general 90 days to remove people erroneously put on watch lists.
“King’s bill was first proposed by the Bush administration,” said Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington). “You can get a majority of the House to pass it quickly so I just don’t get why anyone would oppose that and come up with a different bill that only delays action.”