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Heitkamp to unveil compromise gun control bill with Maine senator

WASHINGTON --Bipartisan legislation is the only way Congress will be able to pass a law that will keep guns and explosives out of the hands of terrorists, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said Tuesday.

Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) speaks at a news conference with a bipartisan group of senators on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., to unveil a compromise proposal on gun control measures, June 21, 2016. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
Senator Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., speaks Tuesday at a news conference with a bipartisan group of senators on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., to unveil a compromise proposal on gun control measures. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

WASHINGTON --Bipartisan legislation is the only way Congress will be able to pass a law that will keep guns and explosives out of the hands of terrorists, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said Tuesday.

But the proposal she supports faces opposition from lawmakers who say it could violate a citizen’s right to due process.

Heitkamp joined several Republican and Democratic senators in announcing a “common sense, bipartisan compromise” bill. Led by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, the bill would prevent those on surveillances lists, including the U.S. government’s “no-fly” list, from legally purchasing guns or explosives from licensed dealers. Collins said her bill would stop about 2,700 Americans and 106,300 foreign national on surveillance lists from buying guns.

“Congress cannot continue on the path it’s on by voting on bills that don’t have a chance of actually passing,” Heitkamp said. “We need to reach a bipartisan compromise that truly aims to address the issue of keeping guns out of the hands of potential terrorists, while protecting Americans’ constitutional rights.”

The bill comes after a gunman opened fired in an Orlando gay nightclub, killing 49 people and injuring 53 others before being fatally shot by police. The incident has prompted calls for tighter gun control because the shooter, Omar Mateen, was on a government terrorist watch list for 10 months but was eventually removed.

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Supporters of the bill said it provides due process by allowing individuals to appeal the decision to block gun purchasing rights, Heitkamp’s office highlighted in a news release. The bill would reimburse court costs accrued by anyone who succeeds in being removed from the list.

Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., noted the appeal process but said the law could set a precedent for denying constitutional rights prior to due process, adding he would rather see more resources going to law enforcement and investigations than to putting a person on the list “rather than leave it up to the accused to appeal the decision.” He told the Herald he would not support for Heitkamp’s proposal as it stands.

“I just remain uncomfortable with the idea that somebody could be … denied Second Amendment rights by the attorney general of the United States prior to due process,” he said.

Sen. John Hoeven has voted for the Shield Act, another bill that he said would keep guns out of the hands of terrorists while guaranteeing due process. Under the legislation, the U.S. attorney general would have 72 hours to present probable cause for denying a suspected terrorist the ability to purchase a gun.

The bill, which needed 60 votes to pass, was one of the four on gun laws that failed in the Senate Monday with a vote of 53-47.

“We’ll review the Collins bill carefully but believe they would need to move the due process review up front in order to get broad-based support for the bill,” Hoeven said in a statement.

Heitkamp voted against those four bills, which were expected to fail in similar fashion to legislation defeated after a mass shooting Dec. 2 that killed 14 people and wounded 22 in San Bernardino, Calif. The bills were either too restrictive or lenient and did not include the due process Collins’ bill did, spokeswoman Abigail McDonough said, which is why Heitkamp voted against them.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina who ran for president this year, said it does not bother him one bit that someone on the list would have to wait to buy a gun, adding it is challenging to get on the list.

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“We are at war, and I don’t know how to protect our nation without changing the way we do business in a fashion that makes sense,” he said. “The likelihood of someone being on this list and buying a gun to use it in a terrorist act is far greater than the likelihood of an innocent person being on this list. But here’s the tiebreaker. We can fix the innocent person being on the list. Once the gun’s bought, we can’t fix that.

“If we can’t pass this, it truly is a broken system,” he said.

Cramer said this is not a simple issue to address and he understands Congress members want to do something to prevent mass shootings and welcomed discussion on the topic.

“We need be a little braver, a little more comfortable, I think too, on saying, ‘Hey, I see suspicious behavior,’ without a fear of being called a bigot,” he said. “That’s a bit of a challenge these days in our society.”

Heitkamp emphasized a bipartisan effort is needed. She said it can be a “pretty terrifying, in some ways, first step” to collaborate on a bipartisan bill for “one of the most contentious issues before the United States Senate.”

“Many times on issues that are as contentious as this one, stepping out isn’t always easy, but it is absolutely essential if we are going to get something done,” she said. “If we want to get something done, it has to be bipartisan, it has to be simple and it has to accomplish a purpose.”

It’s hard to know how much support the bill will gain since supporters still are recruiting yes votes, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Heitkamp’s office her bill would get a vote on the floor, McDonough said. It should be introduced to the Senate next week.

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Forum News Service reporter Mike Nowatzki contributed to this report.

Related Topics: HEIDI HEITKAMP
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