WASHINGTON, United States, June 16 – With US Democrats demanding action Wednesday to reduce violence following the Orlando massacre, Republican Donald Trump signaled openness to legislation preventing terror suspects from purchasing firearms, a flicker of bipartisanship in a toxic presidential campaign.
The presumptive Republican nominee said he hoped to address banning people on terror watch lists from buying guns, a modulation of his steadfast gun-right stance he exhibited throughout the campaign, when he regularly voiced support for the constitutionally enshrined right to bear arms.
Following attacks including the mass shooting in Orlando on Sunday that killed 49 at a gay nightclub, Trump has argued that deaths could have been prevented if private citizens had been armed and able to shoot back.
But when it was learned that the Orlando shooter legally purchased guns in Florida after he had been investigated for terror connections and reportedly placed on a watch list, Trump spoke out about the prospect of closing the so-called “terror gap.”
“I will be meeting with the NRA, who has endorsed me, about not allowing people on the terrorist watch list, or the no fly list, to buy guns,” Trump tweeted Wednesday.
That may place him on a collision course with the National Rifle Association, which said a day earlier that “restrictions like bans on gun purchases by people on ‘watch lists’ are ineffective, unconstitutional or both.”
But the group acknowledged Wednesday they would be “happy to meet” with the Republican flagbearer.
“The NRA believes that terrorists should not be allowed to purchase or possess firearms, period,” NRA spokesman Chris Cox said in a statement.
“Anyone on a terror watch list who tries to buy a gun should be thoroughly investigated by the FBI and the sale delayed while the investigation is ongoing.”
Even as Trump’s position would place him in direct opposition to many congressional Republicans, there were signs of potential movement that could ultimately break a years-long logjam on Capitol Hill.
Republicans largely oppose legislation that would deny weapons to people on such lists, arguing it would infringe on the Second Amendment rights of everyday Americans, including those who may have been placed unfairly on watch lists or no-fly lists.
Studies show a large majority of Americans support legislation that would bar known or suspected terrorists from buying guns.
Frustrated Democrats took to the Senate floor Wednesday to launch a procedural obstruction, known as a filibuster, to pressure Republicans to accept so-called “no-fly no buy” legislation that would bar those on watch lists or no-fly lists from purchasing firearms.
“I’m at my wits’ end,” said Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, where a 2012 school shooting left 20 children dead, as he began his hours-long takeover.
“I’m going to remain on this floor until we get some signal, some sign that we can come together.”
By 11:20 pm (0320 GMT Thursday) Murphy had held the floor for 12 hours discussing ways to reduce gun violence, with 40 senators including Republican Pat Toomey joining him in his effort.
A Senate measure that would have prevented FBI terror suspects from purchasing firearms and explosives failed last December, with every Senate Republican but one voting in opposition.
Time for action
Some Republicans have broken ranks and expressed interest in moving forward, including congressman Bob Dold, who is locked in a tough re-election fight in Illinois.
“Thoughts and prayers are not enough,” Dold said Tuesday on the House floor. “It’s time for action.”
Republican Toomey, whose bill to expand gun sale background checks failed in 2013 and again in 2015, was working this week with Democrats in an effort to restrict gun sales for terror suspects.
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced such a measure Wednesday that would give the US attorney general authority to block the sale of guns or explosives to known or suspected terrorists.
Trump’s Democratic presidential rival Hillary Clinton weighed in Wednesday.
“Surely we can agree, if the FBI is watching you for suspected terrorist links, you should not be able to buy a gun with no questions asked,” she said.
“And yes, if you are too dangerous to get on a plane, you are too dangerous to buy a gun.”
Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, where a gunman killed 32 people at a university in 2007, expressed exasperation about Congress refusing to act to close certain gun purchase loopholes.
“In this body we don’t have to be heroes,” he said on the Senate floor. “We just have to not be bystanders.”
A US government report shows that known or suspected terrorists have passed background checks for gun sales more than 90 percent of the time since 2004.