Trump to meet with NRA over Democrats’ gun control proposal

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. © Jonathan Drake
Following the Orlando nightclub massacre, a Democratic initiative to ban gun sales to people on the terrorist watch list just got a surprise boost from Donald Trump. The presumptive GOP nominee said he would discuss the issue with gun rights activists.

Trump announced on Wednesday morning that he would meet with the National Rifle Association, “about not allowing people on the terrorist watch list, or the no fly list, to buy guns.” The NRA has endorsed Trump’s presidential bid.

Preventing individuals on the government’s watch lists from purchasing firearms has been a major policy initiative of the Obama administration and the Democrats in Congress since December’s terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California. The issue they dubbed “the terror gap” has gone nowhere due to the opposition by the Republican majority, however.

Trump’s initiative appears to have shifted that dynamic, with some Senate Republicans coming out in favor of the proposal.

“The NRA believes that terrorists should not be allowed to purchase or possess firearms, period,” Chris Cox, the executive director of the NRA’s lobbying arm, said Wednesday. “Anyone on a terror watchlist who tries to buy a gun should be thoroughly investigated by the FBI and the sale delayed while the investigation is ongoing.  If an investigation uncovers evidence of terrorist activity or involvement, the government should be allowed to immediately go to court, block the sale, and arrest the terrorist.”

"While the Senate majority shares the NRA position, President Barack Obama and his allies would prefer to play politics with this issue,” Cox said.

The NRA also brought up the testimony of FBI Director James Comey, made before the Senate last year, that letting suspected terrorists know they were on a government watch list could jeopardize the bureau’s work.

“Known or suspected means it hasn’t been adjudicated in every case that somebody is a terrorist,” Comey had said. “It's somebody we're investigating, so we don't want to, obviously, blow our investigation."

On Wednesday afternoon, Senator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) launched a filibuster on the Senate floor, with the state aim of forcing his colleagues to pass a law to “close the terror gap loophole.”

Hearing about Trump’s initiative during an interview with the Huffington Post on Wednesday, his rival for the White House in November’s election, Hillary Clinton, said only, “Welcome to the cause.”

“If the FBI is watching you for suspected terrorist links, you shouldn't be able to just go buy a gun with no questions asked,” Clinton said in a campaign speech on Monday. “If you're too dangerous to get on a plane, you're too dangerous to buy a gun.”

The White House “would welcome support from anybody, including the presumptive Republican nominee,” spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday, but added, “It’s unclear at this point what his intentions are.”

Trump is on the record supporting a ban on “enemies of the state” on government watch lists being allowed to purchase firearms.

However, relying on terrorist and no-fly watch lists to regulate gun purchases has serious shortcomings. One of them is that access to such lists is restricted by government rules, with agencies such as the FBI and Homeland Security justifying the secrecy on grounds of national security. Another is that the watch lists ignore due process and can be used to arbitrarily deprive people of their rights, as critics from the left and right have noted.

“To block gun purchases by someone like [the Orlando attacker], the net must be cast wide enough to ensnare lots of innocent people, who will lose their constitutional rights without anything resembling due process,” Jacob Sullum of Reason magazine wrote on Tuesday.

UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh argued in the Washington Post that the watch list measure would be clearly illegal and violate civil liberties, after Obama first proposed it after the San Bernardino terror shooting last December.

“Due process protections should be put in place that allow law-abiding Americans who are wrongly put on a watchlist to be removed,” said the NRA’s Cox.

The Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, was put on a FBI watchlist while he was being investigated, but the bureau removed his name from the list in 2014. Because of that, his legal purchase of the weapons used in the nightclub attack raised no red flags. It was also not revealed to his employer, G4S, a government contractor who hired him as a security guard.