Saturday 3 December 2016

US Senate rejects plans to tighten gun controls

Dean Gray in Washington

Published 22/06/2016 | 02:30

Omar Mateen
Omar Mateen

The US Senate has once more rejected plans to tighten gun controls, including the restriction of weapons sales to people on terrorism watch lists.

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Four proposals were brought before the Senate after 49 people died in an attack on a gay nightclub in Florida.

But Democratic and Republican senators voted along party lines, blocking each other's bills.

Senators strongly disagreed about how to prevent more attacks happening in future.

Republican Senator John Cornyn said: "Our colleagues want to make this about gun control when what we should be making this about is the fight to eliminate the Islamic extremism that is the root cause for what happened in Orlando.

"My colleagues in many ways want to treat the symptoms without fighting the disease."

For her part, Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski said: "Why is it we would go through such incredible scrutiny to board an airplane to protect me against terrorist, and yet we have no scrutiny of the people on the terrorist watch list to be able to buy a gun?"

Republicans accused Democrats of giving the government the power to arbitrarily prevent Americans from exercising their constitutional right to own a firearm based on a secretive "terrorist watch list" with no judicial oversight.

Democrats countercharged Republicans with being more concerned with the support of the National Rifle Association than preventing the next gun-related massacre.

There is still the possibility of further Senate action - Susan Collins, a moderate Republican from Maine, is attempting to craft a bipartisan compromise.

But even if the Senate were to act, there are no indications that the House of Representatives - which contains conservative politicians more at risk of being unseated by a primary challenge from their right than a general- election defeat - would even take a vote on such a bill.

Republicans and members of the National Rifle Association (NRA) complained that the bills put forward by the Democrats violated the constitutional right to bear arms. They are concerned that without enough "due process", law-abiding Americans wrongly named on watch lists would be prevented from buying weapons.

Democrats said the Republican proposals were too weak. Only eight days before the vote on Monday, Omar Mateen shot 49 people dead and injured many more in the worst mass shooting in recent US history.

Mateen (inset) was a US citizen who had been known to the FBI since 2013 but was not on a terrorism watch list at the time.

In the US, gun dealers are licensed by the federal government.

People can be prevented from buying weapons if they have mental health problems or are guilty of serious crimes, but there is no specific prohibition for those on the terrorism watch list. There are currently about one million people on that list.

There are other ways to buy guns - at gun shows, or from a private vendor online - that do not require any background checks.

The Senate voted down legislation that would have closed a gun show loophole and expanded background checks to cover private sales.

Also rejected was a bill (backed by the NRA) that would allow the US attorney general to delay a gun purchase by a known or suspected terrorist, but prosecutors would need to convince a judge of the would-be-buyer's connection to terrorism within three days.

A bill that would alert the FBI to terrorism suspects who have purchased a gun, without blocking the purchase outright, was also rejected.

Dana Milbank in the 'Washington Post' called the vote an "absurd situation" where Republican senators put the US Constitution's Second Amendment above national security concerns.

He said: "Monday night was the best chance yet to block would-be terrorists from getting guns, and, as before, the Republican majority chose not to act."

Irish Independent

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