Sen. Kelly Ayotte: Terrorists shouldn’t be able to buy guns

  • Sen. Kelly Ayotte in Washington on Monday. AP

For the Monitor
Published: 6/26/2016 12:40:07 AM

As we grapple with the aftermath of the worst terrorist attack on our soil since 9/11, where an individual who pledged allegiance to ISIS purchased firearms even after being investigated twice by the FBI, we must set politics aside and take action. That’s why I introduced legislation with a bipartisan group of senators to keep guns away from terrorists while protecting the constitutional rights of American citizens.

The Orlando attack that took the lives of 49 innocent people and injured 53 more shook our nation to our core. It was an act of terrorism filled with hatred, and an attack on the LGBT community and on our freedom. And it was a reminder that we have to step up our fight against ISIS so we can destroy their capabilities to plan or inspire terrorist attacks.

However, there’s another issue at play here, as the Orlando terrorist had caught the government’s eye before. While Omar Mateen wasn’t on any government watchlists when he purchased his weapons this June, he had been investigated by the FBI twice and during those investigations was temporarily on the Selectee List – a narrower subset of the terrorist watchlist that requires extra screening at airports.

While there is no doubt that we must understand why the FBI removed him from that list and whether more needs to be done to address any gaps in our intelligence gathering capabilities, this situation underscores the urgent need to ensure that terrorists cannot purchase firearms.

It’s just common sense that if you’re too dangerous to board a commercial airplane, you’re too dangerous to purchase a firearm, period.

But on Monday, the Senate failed to advance two proposals offered by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, and John Cornyn, a Texas Republican – both of which had failed previously, mostly on party lines. I had concerns with both – namely, that Feinstein’s proposal was overly broad and lacked sufficient due process protections for Americans, and that Cornyn’s may not provide enough time to stop a terrorist from purchasing a gun. Despite my concerns, I voted to advance them in order to force a debate on this issue and find a better solution.

I believe that solution is bipartisan legislation I helped introduce, the Terrorist Firearms Prevention Act. Our measure blocks the sale of firearms to individuals on the No Fly and Selectee Lists – smaller subsets of the terrorist watchlist that contain individuals who pose a heightened risk to our national security and have met criteria above and beyond the broader terrorism watchlist.

To be on these lists, credible evidence must indicate that an individual poses a heightened threat of committing an act of terrorism or may be operationally capable of committing a terrorist act. Only approximately 2,700 Americans meet those standards and appear on these lists.

Critically, our measure also allows Americans who believe they have been wrongfully denied their right to purchase a firearm to challenge it in court and receive an expedited ruling, where the burden of proof is on the government.

If the government can’t provide credible information justifying an American’s placement on one of those lists, then the government must pay the individual’s attorney’s fees and provide for expedited review to remove the individual from either list.

As it relates specifically to the Orlando terrorist, our legislation also includes a “look-back” provision. That means that if an individual was on the broader terrorism watchlist anytime in the past five years and purchases a gun – like the Orlando terrorist – law enforcement is immediately notified so they can take appropriate action.

Here in New Hampshire, members of the law enforcement community agree that this legislation is a feasible solution.

Manchester Police Chief Nick Willard said that “true to the New Hampshire way,” our measure would “actually be a good step forward.”

Goffstown Police Chief Rob Browne called it a common-sense approach, and Belknap County Sheriff Craig Wiggin said it was an “appropriate, measured response and it balances the needs of law enforcement and national security with the rights guaranteed to us in the Constitution.”

Radical Islamist terrorists threaten our security, our way of life, and all of our constitutional rights. As a member of the Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees, a former murder prosecutor, and a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, I refuse to allow terrorists the ability to legally purchase firearms. I refuse to allow ISIS to continue to thrive abroad, to spread their poisonous hatred, or to plan and inspire attacks against or homeland or our allies. Working together, we must defeat this threat.

When the Senate voted on Thursday on a procedural measure to advance our proposal, it garnered majority support from both sides of the aisle, showing that this solution has promise. Let’s stop the political football and work together on a solution that will keep our country safe by making sure terrorists cannot purchase firearms.

(Kelly Ayotte, a Republican from Nashua, represents New Hampshire in the United States Senate.)




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