Getting assault weapon too easy for Orlando killer

Miami Herald Editorial Board

The horrible details of Sunday’s massacre inside Pulse, a gay club in Orlando, are gradually emerging. The gunman was an obviously radicalized, deranged and well-armed individual.

Omar Mateen, 29, who killed 49 people in the club and died in a shootout with police, had a history of violence, yet his quest for weapons went unimpeded, allowing him to work as an armed security guard and buy the weapons for his rampage. As a student, he punched a teacher, but he was not expelled. His ex-wife said he beat her frequently; her family rescued her from his abuse. His co-workers described him as bully and a racist, often making disparaging remarks about homosexuals, African Americans and Hispanics, all targeted in his rampage.

The FBI had investigated him at least twice, but concluded that Mateen was not a threat. FBI director James Comey said Monday he didn’t think his Miami agents had done anything wrong in their investigation of Mateen.

But there is something wrong when an individual with Mateen’s background, and who sympathized with the Islamic State, had such easy access to firearms and assault weapons.

On Monday, Ed Hanson, the gun store owner where Mateen bought the AR-15 assault rifle and the handgun he used to kill almost 50 people said — just like the FBI — there was nothing he could do to stop him. It’s true — Mateen passed a full background check; he held a Florida license to be an armed security officer since at least 2011. He had been cleared by the FBI and had no criminal record.

The bitter truth is that Mateen’s name was nowhere near a terror list, but even if it had been, it’s likely that would not have stopped him from purchasing an assault rifle.

In 2015, the Republican-controlled Congress refused to approve a measure that would have imposed more stringent rules on people on terror watch lists who wanted to purchase firearms.

The lawmakers who opposed the measure argued they were protecting the rights of people mistakenly placed on those lists to own guns. How considerate. How ridiculous. So if Mateen had been on a terror watch list, he still could have purchased an assault rifle to mow down innocent people.

For all of the rights conveyed by the Second Amendment, it does not preclude the ability of lawmakers to determine who can — and cannot — buy weapons. But they have been wrong-headed and derelict. Though Mateen, with his history, was able to acquire the assault rifle trouble-free, why in the world are such military weapons even available to civilians? In 2004, congressional lawmakers, beholden to the NRA, failed to renew the 1994 federal assault-weapons ban when it sunset.

And to buy a gun in Florida, if you do not have a criminal record or have not been declared a danger to yourself, you fill out form and pay $8 for a background check. If you pass, a waiting period is the only thing standing between you and a gun.

Mateen likely would have been able to buy those weapons even if he had been on the terror watch list.

Still, Republicans who are blocking this move in Congress need to get real and release their stranglehold on the measure. It might have been more difficult, though, unfortunately, not impossible for him to get his hands on an assault weapon.

We are making serious mistakes in failing to protect the public from dangerous domestic terrorists. Congress needs to correct them.