Tragedy struck in Orlando on June 12. A perpetrator inspired by ISIS used military style weapons to murder 49 people and wound 53 others at a nightclub. This kind of lone wolf terrorist attack is perhaps the greatest security threat currently posed to the U.S. A large scale, 9-11 type attack, is much less likely since President Obama has taken out Osama Bin Laden and over 30,000 other terrorists. The U.S. is uniquely vulnerable to this kind of lone wolf attack since our ridiculously lax gun laws allow terrorists to purchase military style attack weapons.
The response from Congressional Democrats to the shooting was swift and decisive. In the Senate, an amendment sponsored by Senator Diane Feinstein that would bar those on the terrorist watch list from purchasing guns and explosives was stopped by a Republican filibuster. Moroever, a GOP filibuster blocked an amendment from Senator Chris Murphy that would have expanded background checks for anyone trying to purchase a firearm at a gun show or online. Both Sasse and Fischer voted to deny an up or down vote on these measures aimed at keeping America safe.
Over on the House side, Speaker Paul Ryan refused to grant an up or down vote on a bill banning gun purchases by those on the terror watch list. In response, numerous Democratic members of the House staged a 25 hour sit in to protest this refusal. Instead of allowing a vote on keeping America safe, Ryan held a vote on a Wall Street sponsored measure that would make it easier for investment advisers to steer their customers into bad investments. After holding that vote for the big banks, Ryan adjourned the House early for yet another vacation. (The House only meets 110 days in calendar year 2016.)
In response to the GOP refusal to allow votes on gun safety legislation, Senator Chris Murphy responded as follows: “We’ve got to make this clear, constant case that Republicans have decided to sell weapons to ISIS. That’s what they’ve decided to do. ISIS has decided that the assault weapon is the new airplane, and Republicans, in refusing to close the terror gap, refusing to pass bans on assault weapons, are allowing these weapons to get in the hands of potential lone-wolf attackers. We’ve got to make this connection and make it in very stark terms.”
Murphy’s remarks were echoed by Nebraska Democratic Party state chair elect Jane Kleeb: “In a move to protect the gun lobby, Senators Ben Sasse and Deb Fischer voted today to give guns to terrorists. Moms are mourning the loss of their sons and daughters while the Republicans in Congress ignore basic common sense. The majority of gun owners want universal background checks and for people on the “no fly list” to not have the ability to buy guns. Citizens have a choice this November and it’s critical we use our voices inside the voting booth to vote for Democrats who will tell the gun lobby their rule over our democracy is over.”
Nebraska’s Republican House delegation has been equally irresponsible. Even though Representative Jeff Fortenberry once again tried to pose as a moderate, his record is as extreme as that of Fischer and Sasse. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, Fortenberry has voted three times to reject legislation that would deny transfers of firearms to persons known or suspected to be engaged in conduct related to terrorism. Moreover, Fortenberry has voted to bar the Centers for Disease Control from funding any research on gun violence and make recommendations.
Congressman Adrian Smith was equally dismissive of efforts to protect Americans from terrorist inspired gun violence and ridiculed the House sit in. In a statement he issued in the wake of the Orlando tragedy, Smith put himself squarely on the side of protecting terrorists’ ability to purchase the weapons of his or her choice.
The only member of Nebraska’s Congressional delegation who was serious about national security was Representative Brad Ashford. While Ashford didn’t join the sit in, he indicated that he supports legislation to prevent suspects on a terrorist no-fly list from purchasing firearms along with a bill requiring enhanced background checks. Ashford’s office released a thoughtful statement about his position on the sit in: “He does not support shutting down Congress on any issue, and he is concerned that this tactic will be used in the future by the far-right to advance issues that we do not agree with.”
The events of the last two weeks prove once again that the Republican Party can’t be trusted to keep us safe. These irresponsible votes to arm terrorists with deadly assault weapons has followed in the wake of years of Republican fecklessness on national security. Beginning in the spring of 2001, then President Bush received (and ignored) several warnings that Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda were planning a series of spectacular attacks on America. Most memorably, on August 6, 2001, Bush received a memo from the CIA with the title: ” “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” Just five weeks later, on 9/11, Al Qaeda accomplished that goal.
The failure to prevent 9/11, was followed up by the disastrous invasion of Iraq – a country that had nothing to do with the attacks on New York City and Washington. No weapons of mass destruction were ever found in that country. In addition, the war ground on for over eight years and according to Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, will eventually cost U.S. taxpayers $3 trillion.
The choice is clear this fall. We can either build on President Obama’s record of achievement or go back to the disastrous policies that have made America less safe. The best way to reduce the incidence of gun violence and to keep America safe is to vote Democratic this fall. We need to work hard to elect Democrats up and down the ballot. I’m convinced that once the voters become more aware of our record and proposals, they will support our candidates. United we are strong. United we will win!