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After Orlando, US tries once again to fix gun laws

world Updated: Jun 17, 2016 01:08 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times
Orlando shootings

President Barack Obama returns a salute as he boards Air Force One on Thursday at Andrews Air Force Base. Obama will visit Orlando to pay respect to the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting and meet families of victims of the attack.(AP)

In the aftermath of the Orlando killings, the US is taking another shot at fixing its notoriously lax gun laws to prevent weapons from falling in wrong hands, such as suspected terrorists.

Senate Democrats won a small victory in that battle on Thursday, extracting the promise of a vote on two crucial legislations on the issue after a 15-hour emotional speech-athon.

“I’ve had enough of the ongoing slaughter of innocents, and I’ve had enough of inaction in this body,” Democrat Chris Murphy said starting the speech-athon, called a “filibuster”.

He vowed to remain on the Senate floor “until we get some signal, some sign that we can come together”. And that came on Thursday with the Republican leadership promising a vote.

Democrats have sought two legislative changes – one, prevent those on terror watchlists, such as Orlando massacre perpetrator Omar Mateen, from buying weapons.

And two, extend background checks to cover buyers at gun shows and exhibitions and on the internet, who are currently not covered, to turn away criminals and the mentally ill.

The US Congress tried the terror block last after the San Bernardino shootings in December, but failed. And the background checks effort failed after the Newtown school massacre in 2012.

Both efforts were foiled by the powerful gun lobby led by the National Rifle Association, which turns any gun control effort into an attack on the constitutionally-mandated right to bear arms.

President Barack Obama, who was travelling to Orlando to meet survivors, relatives, victims and first responders, has been pressing for these changes and renewed his call after Orlando.

He spoke on Tuesday of a need to “make sure that we think about the risks we are willing to take by being so lax in how we make very powerful firearms available to people in this country”.

Obama expressed frustration at the NRA, saying it accuses him of ignoring terrorism if he speaks of gun control, and others accuse him of ignoring gun control if he focusses on terrorism.

Gun law reformers may have their best shot yet this time, having found an unlikely ally in presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, who has backed calls for blocking terrorists.

He supported what is widely called the “no fly, no buy” clause, which says those on the terror watchlist, and prevented from flying, should be barred from buying arms as well.

“I will be meeting with the NRA, who has endorsed me, about not allowing people on the terrorist watch list, or the no fly list, to buy guns,” Trump said in a tweet.

This is one of few issues on which he agrees with Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, who has said “if you’re too dangerous to get on a plane, you are too dangerous to buy a gun in America”.

They continue to spar over other differences stemming from the Orlando carnage — such as Trump’s call for suspending immigration from areas known to have exported terrorism to the US.

But they may have found one other area of agreement recently — the use of the phrase “radical Islam”, which Trump and other Republicans insist is the first step towards tackling terrorism.

Obama disagrees vehemently, arguing that using the phrase for terrorists — who, he says, are rank criminals and thugs — amounts to granting them the legitimacy they crave.

But Clinton appears to have moved closer to Trump on this, saying recently, “radical jihadism, radical Islamism, I think they mean the same thing. I’m happy to say either.”

Malik Mujahid, a Chicago area imam, said Clinton erred. Michigan politician Rashida Taleb has said, “I was taken aback that for the first time, she actually sounded like him.”