WASHINGTON — Republicans in Congress made it clear Thursday that they will not be moving quickly to bring up new gun control legislation in the wake of Wednesday’s shootings in San Bernardino, Calif.
Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday there are still too many unknowns about the San Bernardino shootings, but he said one common theme among many mass shootings is mental illness, an issue he says Congress has already been working on with legislation.
“People with mental illness are getting guns and committing these mass shootings,” Ryan said on CBS This Morning. Ryan made the same point earlier this week in reaction to the post-Thanksgiving shooting at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic.
The Wisconsin Republican said part of the discussion surrounding mental health legislation is who should and shouldn’t have access to guns, but he signaled that barring gun purchases by people on no-fly terror lists — as President Obama urged Wednesday — is not an option.
Ryan said government officials put people on such lists without any due legal process and so denying those listed the right to bear arms would violate their rights.
“People have due process rights in this country,” he said.
He said that if someone is suspected of plotting an attack, law enforcement officials should arrest them.
Ryan suggested there will be multiple issues Congress can address, whether it’s finding gaps in enforcement or passing legislation. But he said there shouldn’t be a rush to do either at the risk of “infringing upon the rights of law-abiding citizens.”
“We just want to get it right,” Ryan said.
Obama said Wednesday that Congress should, at a minimum, take up legislation that would bar anyone on the federal terrorist watch list from buying a gun. He told CBS News “some may be aware of the fact that we have a no-fly list where people can’t get on planes but those same people who we don’t allow to fly could go into a store right now in the United States and buy a firearm and there’s nothing that we can do to stop them. That’s a law that needs to be changed.”
But House Republicans have rejected several Democratic attempts to use a procedural motion to bring that legislation to the House floor this week.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, brushed aside the idea of a bill to keep people on no-fly lists from purchasing guns.
“On any kind of proposal the first question I ask is, ‘OK, would this proposed solution have stopped — which of the past tragedies would this proposed solution have stopped?’” Johnson said in an interview. “And I think the answer in so many cases is very few of them or none of them.”
Authorities have not given any indication that the shooters, Syed R. Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27, were on any no-fly lists, and the guns they used to slay 14 people at a social services center were purchased legally.
“Part of the challenge up here, and I think the frustration that people feel is, is everybody kind of feels like we should do something, but doing something versus doing something which will actually makes a difference are two different things,” said Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D. “Sometimes we focus on the gun itself when we probably should be focusing on the person that’s using that gun.”
Democratic leaders attempted Thursday to force votes on several gun control measures, including expanded background checks.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., offered an amendment to allow the attorney general to prevent someone from buying a gun if that person is a known or suspected terrorist. A person could also be barred from buying a firearm if the attorney general has a “reasonable belief” that the individual would use it in connection with a terrorist act.
“If somebody is too dangerous to board an airplane (because they are on a terrorist watch list), they are too dangerous to buy a gun,” Feinstein said at a press conference with seven Democratic senators. “This shouldn’t be a partisan issue.”
Democrats tried to attach the provisions to a Republican measure intended to repeal portions of Obamacare and bar federal funding for Planned Parenthood — something Obama has said he will veto. But Republicans blocked the measures in a series of floor votes.
Republicans offered alternative versions of the amendments that Democrats blocked, including a provision offered by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, that would provide more money for pursuing felons and fugitives who try to get guns.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Democrats will continue to push the legislation and may try to attach it to an omnibus spending bill to fund the government through the 2016 fiscal year.
“The worst thing we can do is do nothing,” Schumer said.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said members of Congress have been “complicit through our inaction” on gun violence.
“For far too long we’ve done nothing, even as gun violence shakes our nation to its core,” Reid said. “The American people are desperately looking for help, some help, any help.” Speaking on the Senate floor immediately after Reid, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., made no mention of gun legislation.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., created a Republican task force on homeland security in the wake of the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, and said Thursday the no-fly list gun ban may be an issue that task force “will look at.” McCarthy said the task force is intended to consider “any gaps or any vulnerabilities” in U.S. security, though he would not commit to any specific action.
Contributing: Christopher Doering,
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