Tough Talk and a Cowardly Vote on Terrorism
The Editorial Board
New York Times
Dec. 4, 2015
Investigators now believe that what initially seemed a workplace shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., was a well-planned attack by a married couple with at least some contact with Islamic extremists.
The evolving situation has forced Republican leaders and presidential candidates to contort themselves: talking tough on terrorism, yet ignoring the fact that the two were armed to the teeth with two .223-caliber assault rifles and two 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistols, and hundreds of rounds, all purchased legally.
While the nation suffered through the shock of another bloody massacre, on Thursday every Senate Republican except Mark Kirk of Illinois voted against legislation to prevent people on the F.B.I.’s consolidated terrorist watchlist from purchasing guns or explosives.
The measure has been introduced repeatedly since 2007. The Government Accountability Office has documented that over years of congressional blockage, hundreds of suspected terrorists on the watchlist bought guns.
Another bill that would have expanded background checks to gun show and online firearms sales to screen out convicted felons and the mentally ill also failed on Thursday. The four Republican senators running for president — Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Lindsey Graham — all turned up to vote against these common-sense measures.
“If you need proof that Congress is a hostage to the gun lobby, look no further than today’s vote,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein, who sponsored the terror watchlist measure.
In the hours after the attack in San Bernardino on Wednesday, President Obama specifically mentioned that legislation as an important security measure. “Those same people who we don’t allow to fly can go into a store in the United States and buy a firearm, and there’s nothing that we can do to stop them. That’s a law that needs to be changed,” he said on CBS News. The George W. Bush administration backed the terrorist-list bill in 2007.
No matter. The House speaker, Paul Ryan, issued his party’s weak defense of arming potential terrorism suspects on Thursday morning: “I think it’s very important to remember people have due process rights in this country, and we can’t have some government official just arbitrarily put them on a list.” Mr. Ryan’s Senate colleagues demonstrated that they are more worried about the possibility that someone might be turned away from a gun shop than shielding the public against violent criminals.
At the Republican Jewish Coalition’s conference on Thursday, the Republican presidential candidates offered little but political attacks. Senator Cruz immediately blamed Mr. Obama: “Coming on the wake of the terror attack in Paris, this horrific murder underscores that we are at a time of war, whether or not the current administration realizes it or is willing to acknowledge it, our enemies are at war with us and I believe this nation needs a wartime president to defend it.”
Gov. Chris Christie injected more fear: “The president continues to wring his hands and say ‘we’ll see,’ but those folks dressed in tactical gear with semiautomatic weapons came there to do something. We need to come to grips with the idea that we are in the midst of the next world war.”
From Jeb Bush, a bizarre slam: “The brutal savagery of Islamic terrorism exists, and this president and his former secretary of state cannot call it for what it is.”
And Donald Trump, true to his birther views, insinuated that Mr. Obama was hiding something: “Radical Islamic terrorism. We have a president that refuses to use the term. He refuses to say it. There’s something going on with him that we don’t know about.”
Since the Paris attacks, Republicans have been trying to outdo each other in describing how they’d crack down on global terrorism. But when a mass shooting at home calls attention to laws that put guns into the hands of suspected terrorists, they ask for a moment of silence, while taking action that speaks volumes.