U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida filed legislation Wednesday to require that the FBI be notified anytime someone who has been investigated for possible ties to terrorism attempts to legally purchase a firearm.
Nelson, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, seeks in his bill to link those who have been investigated for terror connections to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), used by firearms retailers when they run background checks on prospective customers. If they show up on the list, the NICS system would automatically alert the FBI about the attempted purchase.
“We’re not saying: Don’t sell guns to someone just because they were investigated,” Nelson, a Democrat, said in a statement Wednesday. “But having a system in place that alerts the FBI if someone they once investigated is suddenly trying to purchase multiple assault weapons is just common sense.”
Notes his bill: "If a licensee contacts NICS to request a unique identification number for the transfer of a firearm to a prospective purchaser under section 922(t) of title 5 18, United States Code, and the prospective purchaser is a person who has been or is under a terrorism investigation conducted by the Department of Justice or any other department or agency of the Federal Government, NICS shall notify the appropriate division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the request and pending firearm transfer."
His proposed bill comes in the wake of the nation's most deadly mass shooting, at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida early Sunday. Forty-nine victims died in the shootout as well as the assailant who had reportedly phoned 911 to pledge his allegiance to the Islamic State prior to his brazen attack on the gay dance club. A federal investigation into possible ties with terrorist groups continues.
Another 53 people were injured and hospitalized with significant injuries in the melee, which has turned the nation's eye not only to homegrown terrorism but has ramped up concerns over assault weapon ownership, fueling a passionate political debate over gun control and also calls for a stronger crackdown on terror suspects.
The Orlando shooter, who was born in New York and who worked for a Florida security company, had legally purchased his weapons, including an AR-15 assault-style rifle, despite being interviewed for possible terrorist links by the FBI at least two times. Also, he reportedly had been placed on a "watch list" called the "Terrorism Screening Database" in 2013 and 2014, but was later removed.
FBI's Director James Comey said at a briefing on Monday that the investigation on Omar Mateen had been completed, so his firearms purchases did not raise red flags. "Once an investigation is closed, there is then no notification of any sort that is triggered by that person then attempting to purchase a firearm when the cases were closed as inconclusive,” he said.
In addition to his new legislation Wednesday, Nelson has also co-sponsored a bill that would ban purchases of guns by people on the nation's no-fly list. This measure has raised eyebrows, particularly among Second Amendment supporters who say there are numerous cases in which people have mistakenly shown up on the list, sparking concerns about its accuracy.
"The NRA does not want terrorists or dangerous people to have firearms; any suggestion otherwise is offensive and wrong," said Jennifer Baker, the National Rifle Association’s director of public affairs, in a statement following the November 2015 Paris attacks. "Under the current system, law enforcement is notified every time a person on the list attempts to purchase a firearm. Law enforcement then makes a case by case decision on the appropriate follow-up for each circumstance."
She added: "The NRA's only objective is to ensure that Americans who are wrongly on the list are afforded their constitutional right to due process. It is appalling that anti-gun politicians are exploiting the Paris terrorist attacks to push their gun-control agenda and distract from President Obama’s failed foreign policy."
Others have also said tying the no-fly list to gun purchases sets up a flawed precedent that removes rights from those who are only suspects and haven't been charged with anything.
"They are not seeking to limit the rights of those who are out on bail or awaiting trial, but those who have not so much as been handcuffed," wrote Charles C.W. Cooke in a November 2015 column published by National Review. "Loudly and proudly, they are arguing in favor of removing fundamental rights from anyone whose name has been written down on a list."
But some members of Congress have argued that such a loophole must be closed.
“Under current law, suspected or known terrorists who are on a no-fly list can legally purchase firearms in this country. Slamming this appalling loophole ought to be a no-brainer," noted U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, New York Democrat.
He added: "First and foremost, our goal has to be to avoid any terrorists — lone wolves or otherwise — from getting a weapon, rather than making sure we shoot them after they've gotten their hands on one."
After the Orlando shootings, presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump took to Twitter Wednesday morning to address gun laws that encompassed both the terror suspect watch list and also the no-fly list.
"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," he Tweeted, a day after noting: "American must now get very tough, very smart and very vigilant. We cannot admit people into our country without extraordinary screening."
His Democrat opponent Hillary Clinton also took to Twitter Tuesday to ask: "People can’t board planes with full shampoo bottles — but people being watched by the FBI for terrorism can buy a gun, no questions asked?"
Nelson's new proposed legislation comes after a similar bill, sponsored by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, was defeated in December by a party line vote.