U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.)
U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) | Jeff Sohm, Shutterstock

Virginia's Kaine tells Senate to 'show some backbone' on guns

Appearing on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Wednesday, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said Congress needs to "show some backbone up here to try to make our communities safer" in the wake of the shooting at an Orlando nightclub Saturday night that claimed 49 lives.

In the interview, Kaine referenced his time as Virginia's governor, when in April, 2007, Seung-Hui Cho, a senior at Virginia Tech, shot and killed 32 people, and wounded 17 others.

Kaine called it  “the worst day of my life, and is always going to be the worst day of my life," adding that he tried to get legislation through Virginia's General Assembly to require all sellers to conduct background checks on individuals purchasing firearms at gun shows - but "my legislature blocked me," in that effort.

He said it's possible to "make improvements," in gun laws, mental health screening, and other safety measures, but even those steps "won’t eliminate violence."

"But you will make our communities safer," Kaine said, "and that’s what we have to do after Orlando."
 
Kaine urged Congress to take action, saying that "the grieving needs to pass, and the only way you can honor the lives of those we’ve lost is by making changes to reduce the chances that other families will go through this."

 On Tuesday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) issued a statement in which she is "considering reintroducing [an assault weapons ban] and will be speaking with my colleagues about how best to proceed. We cannot continue to do nothing."

The Senate defeated Feinstein's 2013 bill, introduced after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, by a vote of 60-40, with 15 Democrats among the "no" votes, including Kaine's Virginia colleague, Sen. Mark Warner, who was up for re-election in 2014.

Kaine said Congress may look at a number of responses to the Orlando shooting.

"We’re talking on Capitol Hill about this issue of whether we should add people to this terrorist watch list, to the prohibited classes of people from purchasing weapons, we need to dig into all the facts about this," he said.

Federal watch lists have come under increasing criticism from organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union.

In a report released in April, the ACLU said federal watch lists disseminate "potentially erroneous, inaccurate, or outdated information on an ever-expanding population of watch-listed individuals to hundreds of thousands of law enforcement officers nationwide stigmatizes those individuals as potential terrorists and exposes them to a heightened risk of unwarranted scrutiny or investigation by police."

The group also said such lists divert scarce law enforcement resources away "from actual security threats," and urged Congress to enact reforms.

Kaine called the Orlando shooting an "unusual crime" because "it combines anti-LGBT animus, the victims were primarily Latinos, there’s a potential terrorism connection, a mental health connection, and obviously the gun issue, high capacity magazines and assault weapons, there’s a lot to this."

The FBI is currently investigating reports that the Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, visited gay chat rooms, and was a frequent patron of the Pulse nightclub where he committed his crimes.

"We’ve got to take the time," to study the causes behind the attack, Kaine said, "but then we’ve got to show some backbone up here to try to make our communities safer." 

"This is all about lack of backbone," Kaine said, stating that the Virginia-based National Rifle Association had frequently targeted him for defeat, but that he has "never lost a race. I could lose the next one. But if (the NRA) were that strong, I would have lost one already."  

He said "every right in the Constitution is subject to some reasonable rules and regulations. Most gun owners in this country, most NRA members, support background record checks so that we can keep guns out of the hands of people who are going to use them to produce carnage, either on others or on themselves."

Kaine introduced legislation in 2015 called the "Responsible Transfer of Firearms Act" that would have held individuals who sell or transfer firearms to someone ineligible to own a firearm criminally liable if the seller knew, or suspect, the buyer was on a prohibited list.

The bill failed in the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

The NRA called Kaine's measure unconstitutional, because it  failed to "adequately apprise the public of what sort of actions are prohibited," and would have done "nothing" to "discourage criminals from transferring firearms to each other, as they routinely do already in complete defiance of existing law."

In an op-ed published Tuesday in USA Today, NRA executive director Chris Cox said new gun control laws will do nothing to deter future terrorist attacks, and that backers of new federal gun control legislation "are desperate to create the illusion that they’re doing something to protect us because their policies can’t and won’t keep us safe."