The Democratic Senate Whip Sen. Charles Schumer (D.-N.Y.) told reporters that the most important thing about the No-Fly-No-Buy amendment proposed by Sen. Susan Collins (R.-Maine) is the opportunity to drive a wedge between the Republican Party and the National Rifle Association.
“If we can accomplish this bill, this bi-partisan bill that emerges could be called the ‘Buck the NRA Bill,” he said. “It’ll be the first time that in a bi-partisan way with significant bi-partisan support, the NRA was told: ‘You are way off base. Americans need to be safe. We’re going to work together.'”
Schumer said he is not surprised that Collins is leading the effort to find a bill with enough Republican support to give the Democrats a victory over supporters of gun rights.
“She’s voted with us in the past,” he said. “She’s managed to break – the only one – to break with the Republicans. She is doing this in good faith. I salute her.”
Schumer admitted he has some problems with the Collins proposal, but he is sure they can be worked out.
“Here’s the big question: How many Republicans will be willing to join her to buck the NRA and vote to keep guns out of the hands of suspected terrorists,” he asked. “To pass it in the Senate, we’re going to need a lot – not four or five – where are they going to be?”
The New York senator said he looks forward to seeing Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R.-Wis.) allow a floor vote on the Collins amendment.
Senate Republicans, working with Senate Democrats, are preparing to pass a No-Fly-No-Buy amendment, the Terrorist Firearms Prevention Act of 2016, which will ban firearm sales to Americans on one of the various Terror Watch Lists maintained by the federal government, said Collins Tuesday at a Capitol Hill press conference.
“This is a compromise that will keep guns from getting in the hands of terrorists,” said Collins, who was joined at the rostrum by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R.-S.C), Sen. Bill Nelson (D.-Fla.), Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R.-N.H.), Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D.-N.D.), Sen. Martin Heinrich (D.-N.M.), Sen. Angus King (I.-Maine) and Sen. Tim Kaine (D.-Va.). With her bill, only 2,700 Americans would have their gun rights suspended, unlike the flagship Democratic amendment filed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D.-Calif.), which covers 5,000 Americans.
There are 1,000,000 names in the various Terror Screening Database, or Terror Watch List, and of those 81,000 are on the No-Fly List and 28,000 are on the Select List for extra scrutiny and surveillance. As a rule, only American citizens and permanent residents are allowed to buy guns in the United States, so only the 5,000 Americans or permanent residents in the database would be subject to Feinstein’s amendment. The Collins amendment tightens the focus of the No-Fly-No-Buy restriction to the 1,000 Americans and permanent residents actually on the No-Fly List and the 1,700 Americans and permanent residents on the Select List. In both bills, the 109,000 non-American and non-permanent resident names would be incorporated in the background check system.
The Maine Republican said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.) told her that he would guarantee that the bill would come to the floor for a vote either this week or the next.
Collins said her proposal was splitting the difference between the Feinstein amendment and the proposal by Sen. John Cornyn (R.-Texas). Cornyn’s amendment would have given the federal government three days to prove that the purchaser belonged on the Terror Watch List, if not the purchase would proceed. Both measures failed to reach the floor for a vote.
Another key difference between the Cornyn proposal is that the Collins language gives the purchaser the right to petition the U.S. Court of Appeals, which then has 14 days to validate an attorney general’s decision to block to sale.
The 14-day window is one of the sticking points for Schumer, who said it was too little time for something to get through the process properly.
The Collins amendment would also give the U.S. Attorney General discretion, as to whether or not a terrorist would be allowed to purchase a firearm – this is a factor because intelligence or law enforcement agencies might allow a prohibited purchase to go through, so that the subject of surveillance does not get tipped off that he is getting watched.
Although the 2,700 Americans are considered by Collins too dangerous to fly or to own a firearm, they cannot be rounded as a threat, she said. “Because the government lacks probable cause to do so. Some of them are being monitored, but there is not a sufficient level of evidence to bring charges.”
Graham, a retired Air Force colonel, said he was not concerned by due process considerations.
“We are not fighting a crime, we are fighting a war,” he said. “I believe the FBI deserves the authority from the Congress and we as a nation need to protect ourselves from people, who are acting suspicious enough to get on this list. I am not trying to suggest that if you are on this list you are going to be charged with a crime, I am trying to suggest that if you are on this list, you go through a major cut.”
The South Carolina senator said he knows going through the background check and a 14-day appeals process is an inconvenience, but he prefers the inconvenience to a terrorist getting a gun.
All the senators standing with Collins made short remarks and all of them were careful to stress that their support of the Collins amendment was about protecting Americans, not politics – except for Kaine. The Virginia senator, touting as a possible running mate for former first lady Hillary Clinton said he supports Collins because it was an important step in the Democrats’ political programs.
“I believe if this passes, we add another 109,000 names to the prohibited list, it will enable me to continue to make my case for universal background record checks,” he said. “Once we’ve added those 109,000 names to the list and we tell people, frankly, these folks can still buy weapons, these terrorists can still buy weapons, if we don’t have a universal background record check system – my leverage in making my argument goes up.”