Gabbard among bipartisan group introducing gun control legislation

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KAILUA-KONA — One day after 170 Democrats ended their sit-in on the House floor over a lack of movement on gun control, a bipartisan group of representatives that included Tulsi Gabbard sprang into legislative action.

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KAILUA-KONA — One day after 170 Democrats ended their sit-in on the House floor over a lack of movement on gun control, a bipartisan group of representatives that included Tulsi Gabbard sprang into legislative action.

Gabbard (D-Hawaii) joined eight other House members Friday, including four Republicans, in the introduction of legislation aimed at restricting the sale of firearms to individuals placed on the No-Fly list and Selectee list, subsets of the broader Terrorism Screening Database.

The legislation, H.R. 5576, is the House-companion to the Terrorist Firearms Prevention Act being led in the Senate by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

“In the three and a half years I’ve served in Congress, the Republicans have not once allowed members to vote on any gun control legislation,” Gabbard said of House Republicans in a statement emailed to West Hawaii Today last week. “It is outrageous in this democracy, with a representative form of government, that we are not even allowed to vote on sensible gun control legislation that is supported by the vast majority of the American people.”

Two Senate measures addressing the issue, one from each side of the aisle, proposed as amendments to a larger spending bill were voted down last week. The legislative gridlock, characterized by heavy voting along party lines, preceded the sit-in on the House floor.

While each defeated measure contained some version of restricting the sale of firearms to suspected terrorists, the divisive hinge point between Democrats and Republicans was the right to due process, particularly for those mistakenly placed on terrorist watches like the No Fly list.

The bipartisan legislation co-sponsored by Gabbard and introduced in the House on Friday is structured in the same fashion as the Democratically-sponsored amendment that was defeated in the Senate — those on the specified terrorist watch lists are immediately and universally denied the right to purchase firearms, after which they are allowed to appeal that decision in a federal court.

But Gabbard’s new legislation contains one important caveat.

Americans or green card holders denied access to legally purchase firearms would not only have a federal appeal process available to them, but the presiding court would be required to rule within a 14-day period, a feature unique to H.R. 5576 from previously proposed legislation.

The burden of proof would remain with the Attorney General, who must demonstrate sufficient cause to deny the legal purchase of a firearm. If the decision is overturned on appeal, the person previously denied access to a firearm would be allowed to carry out the purchase and would have all of his or her reasonable attorneys fees reimbursed.

“Majorities in both parties agree with the vast majority of the American people — we need to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists,” Gabbard said in a press release. “However, we must also ensure that any action we take does not compromise the rights to due process guaranteed to every citizen.”

Preceding Legislation

Last week’s failed Democratic amendment, sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Califorina), sought to ban firearm sales to anyone on the FBI’s terrorist watch lists, allowing for an after-the-fact appeal process for American citizens and green card holders to overturn a denial if they felt they were erroneously placed on such lists.

Republicans objected, saying the structure failed to provide adequate due process before stripping constitutional rights of those Americans or legal, permanent residents who may be mistakenly placed on terrorist watch lists.

“Because of the extreme secrecy surrounding the No Fly list, people generally only discover they are on it when they are denied boarding on a flight — often very publicly, at the airport,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union website. “The public does not know how many people are on the No Fly list, and the criteria for inclusion are so broad and vague that they inevitably ensnare innocent people engaged in First Amendment-protected speech, activity or association.”

Gabbard’s co-sponsored legislation differs from Feinstein’s amendment by adding the caveat of the 14-day ruling period, guaranteeing a speedy appeal process.

Last week’s Republican amendment sought to allow the sale of firearms to those on terrorist watch lists but incorporate a 72-hour hold on purchasers taking possession of firearms, allowing time for government intervention. This structure requires the government demonstrate viable cause before denying the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Democrats objected, arguing that 72 hours is not enough time to conduct a thorough investigation and produce conclusive results.

Local Reaction

Several gun control bills have recently been signed into law by Gov. David Ige on a state level, including one making Hawaii the first state to enter the personal information of residents who own firearms into the “Rap Back” system, an FBI database capable of monitoring criminal activity nationwide and reporting it back to Hawaii police.

Hawaii politicians, operating in a state with substantial movement on gun control, weighed in on what’s happening with the issue at a national level.

“Due process is a major, major concern,” said Republican Sam Slom, Hawaii Senate Minority Leader who represents District 9 on Oahu. “I think (72 hours) is enough time with the technology we have. The most recent, horrific incident in Orlando — the FBI had talked to the suspect on two occasions. If the cursory information reported is accurate, there certainly would have been enough reason there … to deny purchase and registration.”

Democrats on a state and national level have also voiced concern over due process, identifying timeliness as a crucial aspect in meeting the requirements of due process.

“Certainly, we do not want to infringe on anyone’s constitutional rights, but we do have to err on the side of safety,” said Democrat Will Espero, Vice President of Hawaii State Senate who represents Senate District 19 on Oahu. “I completely understand the need for due process and giving somebody a timely outlet to get off the list. I think that is going to be the key.”

Republican Support

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Florida), one of four Republican co-sponsors of H.R. 5576 along with Gabbard, echoed her sentiment about the newly proposed legislation.

“Congress must act, at the very least, to ensure individuals on the No-Fly list and Selectee list cannot purchase a firearm,” he said in a press release. “This legislation does just that and ensures due process for law-abiding citizens.”

Whether the rest of Congress agrees that the right to due process has been sufficiently addressed by the bipartisan legislation is yet to be seen. Congress is currently in recess for the Independence Day holiday and will return to session Tuesday.

A Potential Stepping Stone

The mentally ill and convicted criminals are already banned from purchasing firearms, and after a 6-2 Supreme Court ruling Monday, domestic abusers may now be denied the right to purchase firearms as well.

H.R. 5576, which would add suspected terrorists to the above list, does not address the expansion of background checks to a universal extent — a measure that would encompass all gun sales, including those conducted online or at gun shows. Nor does the bill deal with gun control beyond the scope of suspected terrorists or terrorist sympathizers.

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The Gun Violence Archive classifies a mass shooting as any gun-involved incident resulting in a combined killed/injured tally of four or more people. According to the nonprofit’s website at www.gunviolencearchive.org, there have been 163 mass shootings in the U.S. to date in 2016. The vast majority of those mass shootings have produced no links to terrorism.

“This bill is a bipartisan compromise and a good place to start,” Gabbard said in a statement, “but it is by no means the last step to fixing the problem of gun violence in our nation.”

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