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Sacramento sheriff, Feinstein split over guns sales to those on terror watch list

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has received the backing of most California law enforcement leaders for a proposal to ban gun sales to people on the government’s terrorist watch list. Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, however, is opposed.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has received the backing of most California law enforcement leaders for a proposal to ban gun sales to people on the government’s terrorist watch list. Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, however, is opposed. AP

Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, a Republican candidate for Congress, is breaking with other California law enforcement officials to oppose Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s bill to forbid people on a federal terror watch list from buying guns.

Feinstein, a Democrat from San Francisco, is touting law enforcement support for her bill, saying the police chiefs of Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, New York, Philadelphia and Washington are among those who have signed on to support the legislation.

But Jones, who is running in the fall election for the U.S. House seat held by Democratic Rep. Ami Bera of Elk Grove, argues that Feinstein’s proposal has “numerous faults.”

“I’d rather have them shore up intelligence and other mechanisms to help identify and fight terrorism – things that are going to actually keep people safe rather than just some of these surface things to make a few people feel better,” Jones said in an interview.

Feinstein’s bill is at the center of a push by congressional Democrats to tighten gun laws in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. While the San Bernardino shooters and the neighbor who gave them guns were not on the terror watch list, Democratic lawmakers argue America’s recent mass shootings demonstrate the need for stricter gun laws.

“The fact that we cannot stop individuals on terrorist watch lists from purchasing guns and explosives in the United States makes it harder for our country’s law enforcement officers to do their jobs to keep us safe,” Feinstein said.

Feinstein’s bill would allow the attorney general to block “known or suspected dangerous terrorists” from obtaining firearms or explosives. Under current law, a person on the federal terrorist watch list can buy a gun.

Jones said he supported the concept of keeping guns out of the hands of potential terrorists but called Feinstein’s legislation misguided.

“Frankly, I’m uncomfortable with the fact that singular authority for this is vested in the attorney general, who himself or herself is a political appointee,” Jones said.

“At the end of the day, I – and I think much of the American people – have very little faith in this administration or the federal government’s ability or willingness to properly vet folks for any list when it comes to terrorism,” Jones said.

Congressional Republicans are blocking Feinstein’s proposal, saying it could keep someone who was mistakenly put on the terror watch list from buying a gun, violating their constitutional rights.

Republican Rep. Tom McClintock of Elk Grove recently offered himself as an example on the House floor, saying he was on a no-fly list a decade ago – an apparent case of mistaken identity with an Irish Republican Army activist.

Jones said he also used to be prevented from checking into flights online, allowing him to check in only at the airport counter with identification. He said he figured someone with a similar-sounding name was targeted for heightened scrutiny.

Feinstein’s proposal, Jones said, offers a “false sense of confidence” and would not have stopped the San Bernardino attack.

Recent events in Paris and San Bernardino, California, underscore the importance of this critical legislation

Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck

Feinstein spokeswoman Ashley Schapitl said the idea behind the bill was for the attorney general to be notified when someone on the consolidated terrorist watch list, which includes the no-fly list, tried to buy a weapon.

Schapitl said the attorney general would then be able to block the sale “if he/she has a reasonable belief that the weapon would be used in connection with terrorism.”

Bera, the Democratic congressman whom Jones is challenging in the fall election, said he supported the proposal.

“Absolutely,” Bera said. “That should be a no-brainer.”

Feinstein’s office provided statements of support from law enforcement figures, including Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck, who said “recent events in Paris and San Bernardino, California, underscore the importance of this critical legislation.”

San Francisco Police Department Chief Greg Suhr said “this needed legislation corrects a flaw in the current background check system.”

The Sacramento Police Department and the California State Sheriff’s Association did not respond to messages asking about their positions on the legislation.

Sean Cockerham: 202-383-6016, @seancockerham

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