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As Kelly Ayotte supports gun ban for no-fly list, Democrats accuse her of political maneuvering

  • Sen. Susan Collins (left), a Maine Republican, listens as Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday to unveil a new gun legislation proposal. APi



Monitor staff
Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Republican Kelly Ayotte and several other U.S. senators unveiled a compromise measure Tuesday that would restrict gun sales to people on the federal government’s “no-fly” list. The proposal comes in the wake of the Orlando mass shooting and a day after a divided U.S. Senate blocked several partisan efforts meant to curb firearm sales to terrorists.

“This is a common sense, bipartisan proposal,” Ayotte said, a news conference in Washington, D.C. “No fly, no buy.”

Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, is spearheading the “Terrorist Firearms Prevention Act of 2016,” which has drawn support from Democrats and Republicans. It restricts gun sales to the estimated 109,000 people on federal no-fly and selectee lists, most of whom are foreign nationals, Collins said. People on the selectee list face higher screening at airports but are still able to fly.

Ayotte is facing a competitive re-election bid against Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, and gun rights are poised to play a major role in the race. The first-term Republican came under fire this week for a vote against expanding background checks for sales at gun shows and over the internet. New Hampshire Democrats accused Ayotte on Tuesday of backing the compromise deal for political gain.

“Despite her political maneuvering, it’s clear that Ayotte can’t be trusted to put the safety and security of the people of New Hampshire ahead of the gun lobby,” said Hassan’s campaign manager, Marc Goldberg. Ayotte also faced heat from the right after Republican primary challenger Jim Rubens said her recent gun stances have been “setting off alarm bells among Second Amendment defenders.”

Ayotte’s campaign spokeswoman, Liz Johnson, said that Hassan’s attacks show she’s “not serious about actually solving this problem.”

“Hassan should get behind Kelly’s effort to bring people together on a solution that can actually pass the Senate and make our country safer,” Johnson said in a statement.

Under the proposal, Americans or green-card holders on the no-fly and selectee lists would be able to appeal in court a gun purchase denial and recover attorney fees if they prevail. The measure also requires FBI notification when a person who appeared on the terror watch list within the last five years buys a gun, according to a fact sheet.

Supporters include Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine of Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, independent Sen. Angus King of Maine, and Republican Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire’s senior senator, was not at the news conference and has not put out a statement indicating whether she supports or opposes the proposal. Collins said it could come up for a vote within the next few weeks.

“Our goal is simple and straight forward, we want to make America safer,” Collins said. “If you are too dangerous to fly on an airplane, you are too dangerous to buy a gun.”

Kaine said passing the measure would give the U.S. Senate more leverage to expand background checks for more gun sales, an effort that has generally been opposed by Republicans.

“These terrorists can still buy weapons if we don’t have a good background check system,” he said.

The push in Congress to ban firearm sales to terrorists comes less than two weeks after gunman Omar Mateen attacked a gay nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 people. Mateen, who identified himself as an Islamic soldier, had been the focus of two terror investigations that were later dropped, according to the FBI.

The U.S. Senate on Monday blocked four gun measures largely along partisan lines.

Ayotte backed both proposals to curb firearm sales to suspected terrorists, a shift from last December when she joined most Senate Republicans to block a similar Democratic proposal.

An amendment proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, would have prohibited people on federal terrorist watch lists from buying guns. One submitted by Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas would have let the government delay gun sales to known or suspected terrorist for 72 hours while it investigated.

Ayotte said she found flaws with each proposal, but voted for both to “move debate forward.” She advocated for the no-fly list measure on the Senate floor, saying its a compromise that can pass the chamber and put an end to politics surrounding the issue.

Shaheen voted for the Feinstein amendment, but against the Cornyn amendment.

“After Aurora, Newtown, Charleston, San Bernardino, and so many other mass shootings, the Senate failed to act to protect Americans from gun violence,” Shaheen said in a statement after the votes. “It’s shameful that in the wake of the deadliest shooting in our nation’s history in Orlando, the Senate still can’t take modest action to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists and tighten background checks.”

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com.)