After the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, pressure is mounting from members of both political parties to pass legislation that would make it harder for suspected terrorists to obtain firearms by passing “no fly, no buy” legislation in Congress and the Florida Legislature.
Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee who has been endorsed by the NRA, suggested Wednesday he might be ready to distance himself from the powerful gun lobby and announced on Twitter that he would be meeting with the NRA to discuss “not allowing people on the terrorist watch list, or the no fly list, to buy guns.”
Four Orlando-area Democratic legislators held a press conference just miles from the massacre at Pulse nightclub and called on the Florida Legislature to convene a special session to pass a narrowly-drawn law that would require the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate any suspected terrorist, as well as anyone who has been taken off the federal terrorist watch list, before they may legally possess or purchase a firearm in Florida.
And in the U.S. Senate, where Florida Sen. Bill Nelson filed legislation Wednesday that increases restrictions on gun purchases, Democrats mounted a filibuster.
“How many more deaths do we have to have before we speak up?” asked Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, at the press conference Wednesday. “The common denominator of all these instances of mass murder is readily available guns. So we have to tighten our policies with regard to who can buy a gun.”
At least 49 people were killed and 53 were injured when Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old Fort Pierce man, opened fire at Pulse nightclub using a Sig Sauer MCX, semi-automatic rifle. Officials say he purchased the weapon as well as a handgun a week before.
Law enforcement officers said they believe Mateen may have been sympathetic to ISIS and had been radicalized over the Internet. They said he had been interviewed three times by the FBI, was investigated, and was on a watch list for 10 months, but he was no longer considered dangerous when he bought the guns.
“We can’t just rely on the federal government with this,” said state Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, who proposed legislation that would have required the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to clear the gun purchase of anyone who had been on the FBI’s terrorist watch list. “It gives Florida additional protections when we know and suspect a terrorist from being able to obtain firearms in Florida.”
Soto, who represented 13 of the victims killed in the mass murder Sunday, said the proposal was intentionally designed not to include broader and more sweeping reforms — such as renewing the ban on assault weapons and semi-automatic handguns — but “has been narrowly tailored to do something that is designed to get guns out of the hands of terrorists.”
“I’m here as a father who almost lost his son,” said Rep. John Cortes, D-Kissimmee. His 32-year-old son, JP Cortes, had planned to attend the nightclub with two of his best friends but, instead, was invited to a birthday party of another female friend and decided not to go to Pulse.
His friends were killed. “If it wasn’t for her he’d be dead right now,” he said. “We need to reform our laws on guns.”
Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said he was not aware of any specific proposed legislation that would necessitate a special session, said his spokeswoman Katie Betta. He also “does not support expending taxpayer dollars on a special session unless there is definitive support for a concrete legislative proposal that requires time-sensitive action,” she said and suggested the press conference was “political posturing.”
Marion Hammer, the Tallahassee lobbyist for the National Rifle Association and the Unified Sportsmen of Florida, said in an email to the News Service of Florida that the special session request by “these ultraliberal, gun hating Democrats” is “political grandstanding.”
“They are attempting to exploit a tragedy for political gain,” she said.
Neither Gardiner, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, nor Gov. Rick Scott would comment on whether or not they support the “no fly, no buy” proposal. Legislators said they have been told privately by some Republican lawmakers they support the concept, and Rep. Mike Miller, an Orlando Republican whose district office is two blocks from Pulse, told the Herald/Times on Sunday that he is open to tightening the state’s gun laws.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate screeched to a halt Wednesday as Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.. launched a filibuster to pressure Republicans to take up a pending bill that would deny suspected terrorists from purchasing firearms and require universal background checks.
Nelson, the U.S. Senate Democrat from Melbourne, filed legislation Wednesday that also would allow the FBI to flag people who are or have been investigated for possible ties to terrorism when background checks are conducted for buying a gun.
The plan wouldn’t prevent people from completing the purchase but would have the names of those on the terrorist watch list added into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, which gun-shop owners use to run background checks on prospective gun buyers.
“We’re not saying: Don’t sell guns to someone just because they were investigated,” Nelson said in a prepared statement. “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.”
Trump has previously backed a no-buy list but the NRA has opposed it amid concerns that people Americans could be stripped of their right to obtain firearms if they are wrongfully placed on the list.
“Opponents will say that everyone that is on this no-fly list is not a terrorist — there may be some truth to that and we need to make sure that the list is accurate,” said Rep. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando. But “even if that is true, we may stop some terrorists from getting guns, and if that is the case wouldn’t it be worth it
“Is this the last mass murder that we’ve seen? Probably not but if we can stop one we should do it.”
The NRA responded to Trump in a tweet. “Happy to meet @realdonaldtrump. Our position is no guns for terrorists — period. Due process & right to self-defense for law-abiding Americans.”