After the Senate’s failure to adopt gun control legislation , Republican Sen. Susan Collins and a bipartisan coalition Tuesday announced a compromise proposal to bar some terror suspects from buying guns.
But the White House and Justice Department are holding off on backing the measure until they study its provisions. And one leading Democrat, New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer, said there are several key flaws that would need to be fixed before the proposal moves forward.
And the NRA said late Tuesday afternoon that it would oppose the measure, which could keep more Republicans from signing onto the bill.
“Senator Collins and others are focusing their efforts on unconstitutional proposals that would not have prevented the Orlando terrorist attack,” NRA executive director Chris W. Cox said in a statement
Collins, R-Maine, has been working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle on the emerging proposal to bar firearms from being sold to individuals on what are known as the “Selectee” and “No Fly” lists, rather than the considerably larger “Consolidated Terror Watchlist.”
Her co-sponsors on the measure include: Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and Tim Kaine of Virginia. Republican backers include Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Angus King, a Maine independent, is also co-sponsoring the bill.
Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., who has emerged as a leading voice on gun issues , said it was his understanding the White House and Justice Department concerns were rather “technical.”
“You want to make sure that the FBI has the discretion, you know, to assure that individuals aren’t notified that they’re on the list if the FBI has an ongoing investigation,” Murphy said, adding that he viewed the Collins talk as a positive. “I think you are seeing in real time the vise grip of the NRA loosening on this place . I think this is a watershed moment regardless of whether this gets to the finish line or not.”
A senior Democratic aide added that it appeared that Collins was working in good faith, and the question — if concerns with the Obama administration can be resolved — would be the extent to which members of the Republican conference come along.
Graham, during the press conference, said that the Collins amendment is a “substantive sweet spot” and its failure would mean “it truly is a broken system up here.”
“If we can’t do this, I don’t know what we’re ever going to do,” Graham told reporters in the Capitol. “And if you’re a member of the Senate, you’re betting that nobody on this list ever goes out and buys a gun and kills a bunch of people with it.”
Because if that happens, he said, “You’ve got a lot of explaining to do.”
Kaine stressed the need to move beyond the partisan divide that is stifling action on gun violence.
“This body has been impotent, weak, silent and a bystander to this carnage of gun violence that has gone on in the United States,” he said.
“If we’re waiting around for the Democratic version to sail through here, or the Republican version to sail through here, all those victims who are waiting for us to do something will wait for days, months, years, forever and we won’t get anything done.”
Schumer said Senate Democrats and the Justice Department have concerns about the Collins gun proposal. He said the Justice Department had about eight concerns, and two that top the list deal with giving a would-be terrorist “exculpatory information” that could inform a suspected terrorists what authorities know about him or her.
Justice also raised concerns about the appeals process. Schumer said Collins’ proposal would have the court of appeals decide in 14 days whether someone should be granted a gun, which Schumer argued was “virtually impossible if you know how courts of appeals work.”
Schumer said Senate Democrats have an additional concern that the proposal does not give the Justice Department authority to deny sales to nearly 900,000 foreigners in the terrorist screening database. He also pointed out that many of those foreigners could try to enter the U.S. through the visa waiver program, which also needs to be addressed.
The Obama administration is studying the measure to determine its provisions, Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters. “If the assessment is that this would enhance the ability of our law enforcement professionals to keep us safe and prevent suspected terrorists from purchasing a gun, then that’s likely something that we’ll be able to support.”
Earnest also expressed frustration that the compromise proposal would “water down” the Democratic proposal blocking any individual on a federal terrorism watchlist from buying a firearm; Collins would prevent some on those watchlists from doing so.
The consolidated list has more than 1 million names, while the two smaller lists have fewer than 100,000 combined. Of those only about 2,500 are U.S. citizens, Collins said.
A provision would allow the Justice Department to let sales go through if blocking them would interfere with national security investigations.
The compromise proposal comes after the Senate failed to muster enough votes Monday to adopt either of two amendments restricting gun sales to suspected terrorists.
The Democratic approach would have banned sales to people on all lists, while the Republicans sought a three-day delay during which the government would have to prove why the individual should not buy a gun.
Collin’s tentative agreement also would provide for a look-back, requiring the FBI to be flagged if anyone whose name’s been in the broader database within five years buys a gun.
As Collins has been discussing, the proposal would include a mechanism for both U.S. citizens and permanent residents to get back legal fees from the federal government if they go to court and are able to get a judge to agree they shouldn’t have been blocked from buying the firearms.
While few senators said they had seen the actual proposal, several expressed hope that it could bridge the partisan divide and provide some sort of legislative response to the June 12 terrorist mass shooting that left 49 dead in an Orlando gay nightclub.
“There’s a lot of persuasion to be done in both caucuses, but I think there’s a reasonable chance that we can get there,” said Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who sponsored the Republican amendment, said he hasn’t read the bill but added that GOP leadership was willing to have a vote on Collins’ amendment.