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Democratic Effort to Tie Gun Purchase to Terror Watchlist: A First Step or a Dangerous Precedent?

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Democrats taking part in the House sit-in are pushing for votes to expand background checks for gun purchases and to curb the sale of weapons to people on government watchlists—a proposal strongly opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Constitutional Rights, among other groups. We speak to Congressmember Barbara Lee (D-California) and Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you have what happened yesterday, New York Congressmember Nita Lowey, who proposed an amendment to a Homeland Security appropriation bill that was voted down by every Republican member of the committee. According to Congressmember Lowey, the amendment would have given the attorney general the authority to block the sale of firearms to known or suspected terrorists, if the attorney general has a reasonable belief that the firearm would be used in connection with terrorism. “No fly, no buy,” explain exactly what this is. We also have with us Vince Warren of the Center for Constitutional Rights, deeply concerned about the civil liberties aspects and the flawed nature of this kind of gun control measure.

REP. BARBARA LEE: Yes. I’m on the Appropriations Committee, and this was not the first time we tried to put an amendment up for reasonable gun safety, gun control measures. And it—of course it failed, because the Republicans, for the most part, all of them, voted against it. Look, if there are flaws with the no-fly list, believe you me, as one who cares about our civil liberties, we must fix that. I know the ACLU and others have proposed legislation to fix it. But guess what. The Republicans won’t even let that legislation come forward. So, come on. We’ve got to start somewhere. And believe you me, this is a first start, and we have to understand that we’ve got to fix any issues that would relate to civil liberties. And that is, in fact, what we have been trying to do. But we must get—we must make sure that those who do not—should not have guns are not able to buy guns. And for the most part, those who are on a watchlist should not be able to buy a gun and kill people.

AMY GOODMAN: Vince Warren of the Center for Constitutional Rights, your response?

VINCENT WARREN: Well, first of all, I really appreciate all of the action that’s happening at the—at Congress, and particularly the sit-in. That’s exactly what’s needed, and I absolutely applaud that. What we have to be careful about, though, is pitting two different sets of constitutional rights against each other. And essentially, we have a Republican version of constitutional rights that have to do with gun control, which we at the Center for Constitutional Rights and other groups think is not an absolute right the way the Republicans do. And then you have—on the other hand, you have the rights that all of us have with respect to not being on these type of watchlists inappropriately or in error, which happens all of the time. And the big challenge, frankly, that we’re seeing from the Democrats is that they’re looking at those two sets of constitutional rights, and they’re deciding, “Well, gosh, these Republicans are really being difficult, and this is hard. What’s the compromise?” And what they’re essentially doing is that they’re compromising a fake concept of constitutional rights in gun control, and they’re keeping that strong, and they’re watering down an already bad system which we have, which is the no-fly list. People don’t know how they get on the no-fly list. Once you’re on the no-fly list, you don’t know how to get off. So, if you’re using no-fly list as a proxy for dangerousness, as a way to tell that somebody’s going to be dangerous, you’re—it’s not going to work. And we’re essentially solidifying the Republican position against gun control by watering down our constitutional rights to stay free from these type of invasions.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Lee, it’s very interesting that it’s the Republicans that are raising this issue that Vince Warren of CCR just raised.

REP. BARBARA LEE: Sure. Very few Republicans have ever been concerned about civil liberties, since I have been here. And let me tell you, Amy, I remember the days of COINTELPRO very well. I voted against the PATRIOT Act. I voted against all of the FISA authorizations. And if there are problems, which there are, I think, with the watchlists, we need to take up those proposals that have been put forward, that the Republicans will not let us take up, to fix it. Having said that, we’ve got to start somewhere. And we’ve got to make sure that those watchlists are accurate, and we’ve got to make sure that those people who belong on there belong on there, actually, and we have to make sure they don’t get their hands on guns.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Lee, you know, when your colleague in the Senate, Senator Christopher Murphy of Connecticut—of course, representing Sandy Hook—also engaged in an historic filibuster—I think it was the ninth longest, 15 hours—in the Senate, the agreement was simply to get a vote. And then all the amendment—all the proposals that were taken up were voted down, Republican and Democrat. But in both cases, both in what you’re calling for in the House and what he was calling for in the Senate, there hasn’t been a straight-up demand for an assault weapons ban. Why not?

REP. BARBARA LEE: We have to do that. There’s the bill, the Safe Communities Act, that part of that bill by Congressman Thompson has a provision for banning assault weapons. Amy, let me tell you one thing: We have a strong assault weapon ban in California. We have to have a national policy, because guns are transported across states all of the time, and they end up in my community, even in California with the assault weapon ban. Also, we need to have—have to amend or repeal the Tiahrt Amendment, which I try to do every year, and that’s a restriction on gun tracing. There are many, many aspects of this that are very complicated, but we have to start somewhere. These assault weapons, I mean, 900 rounds? What does anyone need an assault weapon to protect themselves or to ensure that they are protected by their Second Amendment rights? You know, no one wants to take away anyone’s right to hunt or to protect themselves, but assault weapons, weapons of war, weapons of mass destruction do not belong in the hands of anyone, quite frankly, in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: So, your plans now?

REP. BARBARA LEE: Well, we’re going to keep going. We’re going to—this is the first chapter of our protest and our insistence that we bring these bills up. We have a strategy we’re going to work on moving forward. And I think what’s important now is this movement that’s developing. We’re going to continue to work with organizations and people around the country to make sure that we put the heat on those Republicans and on the speaker to bring these bills up. It’s going to require us to do many, many things. It’s going to be direct action. It’s going to be organizing with our constituents. It’s going to be legislative actions. And so, it’s going to be comprehensive. It’s going to be very aggressive. And you’re going to see Democrats once again moving forward.

And I hope, Amy—I hope people remember these elections are coming up in November. And quite frankly, as a Democrat, I’m going to work very hard to make sure we take back the House and defeat these Republicans, who really do not care about anything except the NRA and the NRA’s strategy to keep the people’s voice and to keep us from bringing forward commonsense gun measures. So we have elections, and elections have consequences. And I hope the public understands who’s on their side.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Barbara Lee, I want to thank you for being with us, Democrat of California, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Peace and Security Task Force, also former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, Congressmember Alan Grayson, who represents Orlando, Florida, will be joining us. Vince Warren will stay with us, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. And we’ll hear from a woman who lost her father in the Virginia Tech massacre. Stay with us.

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In Wake of Orlando, Florida Rep. Alan Grayson Revives Efforts to Implement Assault Weapons Ban

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