Idea of no guns for people on no-fly list fails to gain enough backing

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is seen in an elevator on Capitol Hill this week after speaking on the Senate floor about gun legislation.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is seen in an elevator on Capitol Hill this week after speaking on the Senate floor about gun legislation. AP

Mass shootings might not be predictable, but their aftermaths often are.

Democrats decry the looseness of gun laws and call for more safeguards. Republicans rally around the Second Amendment and call for better mental health treatment.

The fallout from the murders this week in San Bernardino and at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic before that has followed the usual script: House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, has pushed legislative efforts to improve mental health care; Democrats have offered measures to tighten rules governing the accessibility of guns.

Among them: an attempt by Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-California, this week to deny firearms and explosives to people on the Justice Department’s consolidated Terrorist Watch List.

This is a database created after 9/11 of people either known or suspected to be involved in terrorism. Among other roadblocks, it adds them to the government’s no-fly list, barring them from boarding an airplane. The George W. Bush administration supported a similar effort.

The GAO has found that between 2004 and 2010, about 91 percent of the gun purchases by people on the watch list went forward.

Feinstein has offered the legislation before and it met a similar fate this week, losing 45-54. Every Democrat but one – Sen. Heidi Heitkampf of North Dakota ‑ voted for it, while every Republican but one – Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, who is facing a tough re-election next year in a blue state – voted against it.

Feinstein blamed the defeat on the politically powerful National Rifle Association, which has opposed her measure in the past over the constitutional right to bear arm.

“If you need proof that Congress is a hostage to the gun lobby, look no further than today’s vote blocking a bill to prevent known or suspected terrorists from buying guns and explosives,” Feinstein said after the vote. “If you’re too dangerous to board a plane, you’re too dangerous to buy a gun.”

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas opposed her bill, arguing that it was unconstitutional. He offered an alternative that would authorize the attorney general to call for a three-day delay in a gun purchase by someone on the watch list and then a ban if deemed necessary. That also was defeated.

Critics argue that the watch list can wrongly include people and that banning anyone on it from purchasing a gun would violates their Second Amendment rights.

Republican presidential hopefuls Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina all voted against the Terrorist Watch List measure.

So did Republicans from states served by McClatchy newspapers: Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Johnny Isakson and David Perdue of Georgia, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran of Kansas, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Tim Scott of South Carolina and Roy Blunt of Missouri.

Senators who backed Feinstein’s bill include Democrats Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington, Richard Durbin of Illinois, Barbara Boxer of California, Bill Nelson of Florida, Robert Casey of Pennsylvania and Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

Lesley Clark contributed.

David Goldstein: 202-383-6105, @GoldsteinDavidJ