Lawmakers split on gun control after Orlando mass shooting

Montana’s congressional delegation is split on whether gun control is needed after Sunday’s mass shooting in Orlando, Fla., the worst in U.S. history.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., told The Gazette it was past time to stop selling weapons to people on terrorist watch lists, as well as people who have been declared mentally ill by a court of law.

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., disagreed, telling Senate colleagues the focus needed to be on radical Islam and ISIS, not the Second Amendment. It was the same focus Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., called for Sunday.

Given that Sunday’s gunman, 29-year-old Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, was American born, the tighter gun restrictions advocated for by Democrats might not have been enough, Tester said. But tighter restrictions, starting with no gun sales to anyone considered too dangerous to fly commercially, would be a good first action of many needed to address terrorist threats.

“Keeping guns out of the hands of terrorists is something that makes sense. Why are we not doing this?” Tester said. “We have a terrorist watch list. It probably wouldn’t have stopped this one, but you have to start somewhere.”

The proposal was the same “no fly, no buy” law that Democrats first proposed in 2009 and last tried to pass in 2015, failing to do so by seven votes. Tester said he didn’t think there was any more support for the measure now.

Lawmakers spent Monday making speeches about how horrifying Sunday’s attack was, while girding battle over what to do about it. Republicans made clear they weren’t in support of gun restrictions.

“This is a threat we face from radical Islam and ISIS and the worst response would be to politicize this and use this tragedy to restrict our constitutional rights and freedoms,” Daines told the Senate. “We cannot allow dangerous terrorists to hide in our communities. We need to seek them out and ensure they aren’t able to inflict harm on our neighbors, our friends and our families.”

Sunday’s mass shooting came after several weeks of gun politicking by Daines and other Republicans. The National Rifle Association hosted presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at its national convention May 21. Trump told NRA members Hillary Clinton was coming for their guns.

Daines was on Snapchat less than a week ago, informing viewers that, “in Montana we say gun control means using two hands.” With the cloud-covered Bridger Mountains in the background, Daines delivered the message with a rifle slung over his shoulder.

Daines planned to support better terrorist background checks. Anyone on the terrorist watch list, the same list Tester supports using to ban gun sales to high-risk people, Daines said should be investigated, arrested and prosecuted.

If there’s proof a terrorist suspect is trying to buying a gun, Daines would support arresting the suspect. The last time the “no fly, no buy” act reached the Senate, Montana’s two senators were divided, with Tester voting in favor and Daines voting against.

The no-fly list has been scrutinized as a tool for banning gun sales because innocent Americans do make the list. Tester said anyone can prove their way off the list.

Zinke was waiting Monday afternoon for a whip meeting, in which Republican lawmakers were to discuss options the House might pursue post-Orlando. He said Sunday the focus needed to be on terrorism.

“We must change course: Radical Islamic terrorism is as much a war within Islam as it is a war against the West, and it will take a global coalition with Middle Eastern stakeholders and American leadership to stop it at its source,” Zinke said. “We must also do more here at home to stop individuals who have been radicalized before they act.”