Tightening access to firearms

By Sen. Susan Collins

 Editor’s Note: The following is the text of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ testimony before the president pro tempore on the floor of the Senate on June 23 in regards to her compromise bill prohibiting the purchase of firearms by people on law enforcement No-Fly and Selectee lists.

 “Mr. President, this amendment is unusual when we are debating issues like terrorist watch lists and the appropriate restrictions that are needed, desperately needed, to ensure that people who are suspected or known terrorists are not able to purchase firearms. How is it unusual? It’s bipartisan, Mr. President. Surely on an issue of this importance, we should be able to come together and work for common sense solutions.

“This bipartisan amendment is cosponsored by Senators Heitkamp, Ayotte, Heinrich, Flake, Kaine, Graham, King, Kirk, Nelson, Manchin and Baldwin. I want to sincerely thank each of the cosponsors for their many contributions to our amendment and for their support in crafting what is a common sense proposal. Our amendment has three basic provisions:

“First, it would block the purchase of firearms by individuals who are on the No-Fly list or on the Selectee list. Essentially, Mr. President, the premise of our amendment is that if you have been designated as too dangerous to fly on an airplane or you have been designated as someone who needs extensive secondary screening, extra screening before you’re allowed to board a plane, you should not be able to buy a gun.

“Second, our amendment would provide an immediate alert to the FBI and to local law enforcement if an individual who has been on the government’s terrorist watch list at any time during the past five years, purchases a firearm.

“The Orlando shooting provides perhaps the clearest example of why this provision is so important. The gunman was on the Selectee list for approximately 10 months, but then he was off the list when he purchased the two guns used to kill 50 people and injure scores more. If our amendment were enacted, the FBI would have been notified immediately when he purchased the first firearm in the weeks leading up to the shooting. And then the FBI would have been notified a second time that the former terrorism suspect who had watched videos of Anwar al-Alaki was seeking to purchase additional firearms in a short period of time.

“Surely that would have caused the FBI to reopen its investigation of Omar Mateen, and perhaps, Mr. President, if our proposal had been in effect, perhaps that massacre would have been prevented.

“Third, our amendment provides robust due process procedures to protect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans. Any American denied a purchase under this amendment would have the opportunity to have their case heard before a federal district judge. The government would have the burden of proof in order to deny the sale and would have to present its case within a short but reasonable period of time.

“If the government failed to make its case, if this turned out to be some terrible error, it would have to pay attorney’s fees for the person who had been denied the purchase, and of course, the purchase of the firearm could go forward. And our amendment makes sure that the applicant can have cleared counsel present to make sure that the government cannot take away a fundamental right without a legal advocate to protect their due process rights.

“Now, critics of our amendment have mistakenly claimed that this bill would have denied Americans the right to keep and bear arms based merely on suspicion or a hunch. That is simply not true. We are not using the terrorist screening database, which has 1.1 million people on it. That is not what we are using. We are using the carefully defined No-Fly and Selectee lists, because those are the most carefully constructed subsets of all of the government’s terrorist watch lists. These two lists include the names of individuals who pose the greatest threat of committing an act of terrorism against aviation, against the homeland, against U.S. interests overseas. And there are, in fact, only 109,000 individuals on this list, of which only 2,700 are Americans.

“Mr. President, this amendment is a commonsense approach to helping to make America safer. And I think it is highly significant that we have just received a letter that is signed by a group of generals and admirals who’ve been on the front lines in fighting terrorism, people like General Petraeus, who are endorsing the bipartisan amendment that we have put forth. Mr. President, let us not miss this opportunity to make a difference, to get something done. Let us listen to the heartbroken families in Orlando, in San Bernardino, in other terrorist attacks. This is common sense. It does not infringe upon the Second Amendment rights of Americans. All it does is say that if you’re too dangerous to board an airplane, you’re too dangerous to buy a gun. I urge my colleagues to support our amendment.”

Republican Susan Collins is Maine’s senior U.S. senator.

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