Maine’s two U.S. senators said Monday that they would support – to varying degrees – a federal law blocking individuals on terrorist “watch lists” from purchasing guns.

Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King disagreed as recently as last December on the best method for keeping guns out of the hands of individuals with potential ties to terrorist groups. And with Congress seemingly gridlocked on any issues pertaining to guns, it is questionable whether even the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history will prompt lawmakers to find middle ground.

On Monday, Senate Democrats announced plans to attempt to revive a gun control measure that they claim might have kept the alleged shooter in the Orlando nightclub massacre from purchasing a gun. The bill would allow federal authorities to block gun sales to anyone on a government “watch list” or who federal officials have “reasonable belief” might use the gun in an attack.

A similar measure failed late last year along a largely party-line vote, with Republicans backing a less-sweeping proposal seeking a 72-hour delay on sales to certain individuals.

King, an independent, supported last year’s Democratic proposal and indicated in an interview Monday he would do so again as long as it features a fair and expedient way for those wrongly included on the list to appeal.

“I think it is both necessary and common sense,” King said of the proposed restrictions. “I don’t know why we have a process that would not let people buy a ticket for an airplane, but would allow them to buy a gun.”

Like all but one of her Republican colleagues, Collins voted against the proposal sponsored by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California last year because she said it was based on an overly broad “terrorist screening database.”

COLLINS WOULD USE TO ‘NO FLY LIST’

On Monday, Collins said she fully supports prohibiting gun purchases by those on the Transportation Security Administration’s so-called “No Fly List,” a smaller database of known or suspected terrorists. She said Feinstein’s proposal, as introduced last year, contained “unvetted, often fragmentary” information on people without adequate recourse for those who pose no threat.

“Her amendment could have permanently banned somebody from buying a firearm without sufficient legal justification,” Collins said in a statement. “Using the much more targeted ‘No Fly List,’ with due process protections, would be more practical and more effective than this overly-broad-approach.”

The shooter in the Orlando nightclub massacre, 29-year-old Omar Mateen, had been on a terror watch list in 2013, but was taken off it and wasn’t on the no fly list, Bloomberg News reported Monday.

Both Collins and King likely will have opportunities to question senior law enforcement and national security officials – both in public and behind closed doors – about the investigation into the Orlando shooting because they hold two of the 15 seats on the Senate Intelligence Committee. The Florida mass shooting is almost certain to come up during a classified briefing on Tuesday.

King said he was still gathering information about the incident. One question he has is about the circumstances behind the shooter ending up on the FBI’s radar screen but also the decision to stop following him.

“I’m not second-guessing the FBI, I just want to understand the process,” King said. That will help him and other lawmakers decide whether Congress needs to make changes to ensure the FBI can continue to monitor individuals who may become threats, he said.

Mateen had legally purchased an AR-15 assault rifle and a handgun just a week before the mass shooting. He had been on the FBI’s radar screen at least twice because of statements he made and because of brief communications he allegedly had with an American who later became a suicide bomber overseas.

But the FBI dropped its investigation of Mateen because it couldn’t find concrete ties to terrorist groups, so his name did not raise any red flags during the federal background check required before gun purchases.

Last December’s 45-54 vote on Feinstein’s bill came immediately after a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, carried out by a couple who were inspired by Islamic militant groups. One Democrat and one Republican crossed party lines on the vote.

UPHILL FIGHT FOR GUN BILLS

Later that day, the Senate also rejected a Republican-sponsored proposal to allow the federal government to delay a gun sale to someone on the watch list by up to 72 hours, during which time the government would have to prove “probable cause” for the denial. Speaking to reporters Monday during a conference call, Senate Democrats said they hoped to revive Feinstein’s bill potentially by attaching it as an amendment to appropriations bills now pending in Congress.

Feinstein pointed out that the proposal was first proposed by the administration of Republican George W. Bush and would allow for a timely appeal process for anyone who believes they were wrongly included on a terror watch list.

“We believe changing this loophole is just common sense and is the least we can do to deter terrorist attacks,” Feinstein said in a conference call with reporters.

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, who is the Senate’s second-ranking Democrat, said he believes the bill is the most important piece of gun-related legislation pending in Congress “and has the greatest chance of passage.”

Schumer said the policy “likely” would have blocked Mateen from purchasing the AR-15 and handgun he used during the Orlando massacre, but added: “We will never know because this law wasn’t on the books.”

Congress has not adopted any gun control bills despite a spate of mass shootings in recent years. The most ambitious attempt to expand background checks and ban assault weapons failed in the Senate months after more than 20 children and teachers were killed in Connecticut.

King said he was unsure of the prospects of the latest attempts.

“I suspect in this election year it is going to be very difficult to do anything involving guns,” King said.

 


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