- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 30, 2016

Senate Democrats say they are increasingly confident that they will beat the National Rifle Association and force stricter gun control laws in the wake of the Orlando terrorist attack, insisting the tide of public opinion will swing the debate.

But Republicans continued to poke holes in Democrats‘ proposals, even putting Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on the spot as he acknowledged some of the plans being circulated on Capitol Hill would deny Americans their Second Amendment rights based on suspicion.

The issue has dominated congressional debate over the past couple of weeks, including a 1960s-style sit-in of Democrats on the House floor, shutting down business to draw attention to their demand for votes on legislation denying the right to buy firearms to those on secret government watch lists.

Congress returns next week from an Independence Day recess, and Democrats say they will have the upper hand.

“We are going to get something done this year,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said at a press conference Thursday. “I think we’ve taken a bite out of the NRA. I think they’ve done enough damage.”

Democrats‘ preferred proposal, written by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, would ban purchases by nearly 1 million people on several government lists: the no-fly list, the heightened airport screening list and the Terrorist Screening Database. It would give people the chance to challenge a denial after the fact — though it would also give the Justice Department secrecy powers to protect ongoing investigations.

Republicans say the lists cover too many people, are often based on erroneous information and fall short of the standards needed to deny someone the right to own a firearm — which is protected by the Constitution’s Second Amendment.

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, has written legislation that would apply to a much smaller list of people, delaying sales for up to three days while the government goes to court to make its case. That legislation garnered support of 53 senators — though it fell shy of the 60 needed to overcome a Democrat-led filibuster.

Sen. Susan M. Collins, Maine Republican, has offered a compromise that would apply only to the no-fly and heightened screening lists, covering 109,000 people. Her bill would allow the attorney general to deny a sale but would give the buyer a chance to appeal. That plan garnered 52 votes.

The debate carried over to Thursday’s hearing with Mr. Johnson in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where both sides pressured the Homeland Security secretary to take a firm stand.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said terrorist groups have encouraged supporters to try to exploit permissive gun laws to orchestrate attacks in the U.S., and Mr. Johnson confirmed he had seen evidence of those reports “as recently as this week.”

The secretary called guns “an instrument of terrorism.”

“I hope we can find a way, consistent with the Second Amendment, to make it harder for terrorists to buy a gun in this country,” he said. “I believe it’s a matter of homeland security that we address this.”

But Mr. Cornyn prodded Mr. Johnson, saying he found it troubling to deny someone a constitutional right based on appearing on a watch list maintained by the FBI and not subject to oversight by the courts.

“What other constitutional rights would you say could be denied unilaterally by the government based on their presence on a secret watch list?” Mr. Cornyn demanded.

Mr. Johnson refused to disclose how people end up on terrorist watch lists, saying it was classified. He also demurred when asked what other rights could be stripped without a court’s order.

“I think there are circumstances where, if we, through law, provide a process for denying somebody the ability to acquire an assault weapon or an assaultlike weapon because they are about to commit an act of terror, that it should — if properly constructed — survive any sort of court challenge,” he said.

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