Orlando shooting sparks gun rights debate

Portman changes stance allowing those on terror watch list to buy guns

Sen. Rob Portman said Tuesday that he supports barring those on the federal terrorist watch list from being able to buy weapons – an apparent change from a vote he took last December that would’ve done that very thing.

“I do believe you should not be able to buy a weapon when you’re on the watch list,” Portman said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday. He said he was hopeful that the issue would come up on the floor of the Senate.

Portman, R-Ohio, said he was staying consistent with a position he took in December. He was reacting to the mass shooting in Orlando last weekend that took the lives of 49 people.

In December, Portman opposed an amendment introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., which would allow the U.S. Attorney General to block the sale or transfer of a gun or explosive to a suspected or known terrorist. The amendment failed 45-54.

Portman backed an amendment by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, which would’ve allowed the attorney general to delay a suspected terrorist from getting a gun for up to 72 hours while federal officials tried to get a court to approve blocking the sale of firearms. Those on the terrorism watch list would be unable to buy a gun if a court determined that that person had committed or would commit an act of terrorism. That amendment also failed.

Portman, speaking to reporters Tuesday, said he preferred Cornyn’s amendment because he felt it had more due process for those put on the list erroneously. He also appeared confused about whether Feinstein’s amendment applied to the more limited “no-fly list” or the larger “terrorism watch list.”

“I do support having it be the broader list,” he said, saying the Senate would have to pass something with due process that would allow those wrongfully put on the list to appeal.

Still, gun rights groups are adamant – they do not want the current database used to keep people from buying guns.

“It’s a horrible idea,” said Jim Irvine of the Buckeye Firearms Association. He said the database is already flawed, and would allow the government to bar people from owning weapons who were put on the list under faulty premises.

At a House briefing with the Federal Bureau of Investigations on the shootings, officials reportedly told House members that there are already existing protocols to bar people on the terrorist watch list to make sure law enforcement can prevent them from getting arms. The shooter in the Orlando attack had reportedly been investigated by the FBI, but has not been on any terror watch list since 2014, according to someone who attended the House briefing who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Even before Portman spoke to reporters, his political opponents were leaping on the vote as an example of Portman giving in to gun rights groups at the expense of safety. Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper called Portman’s December vote “reprehensible” and “beyond disappointing.” And former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat who is opposing Portman, wrote a blog post lambasting the vote. “I believe there can be no reasonable disagreement about making it more difficult for terrorists or those suspected of terrorist activity from obtaining weapons,” he wrote.

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