WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham — no stranger to spearheading bipartisan legislative compromises — has signed on as a co-sponsor of Congress’ latest effort to keep firearms out of the hands of terrorists.
The South Carolina Republican hopes that, unlike other cross-aisle collaborations of the past, this is a plan that could land on the president’s desk.
“If we can’t pass this, it truly is a broken system up here,” Graham said at a Capitol Hill news conference Tuesday.
Graham helped negotiate the terms of the measure, which was introduced by moderate GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, with support from some other Senate Republicans and Democrats. The bill would bar gun sales to the roughly 109,000 people, including 2,800 Americans, whose names appear on either of two most widely followed government watch lists.
One is the “No Fly” list, which prevents certain suspicious people from boarding commercial airplanes flying into, out of or over the United States.
The other is the “Selectee List,” which is used to identify people who need additional screening prior to being allowed to board a flight.
In the wake of the June 12 shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., that killed 49 people, Graham stressed that the shooter was motivated by radical Islam, and that no gun control legislation was going to prevent future terror attacks post-Orlando, now the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.
“If you think we’ve solved the terrorism problem (with this bill) ... we have not,” he said.
Graham over the past week also has expressed concerns about some of his colleagues’ proposals to keep guns away from everyone on the broader terrorist watch list. Some individuals are added to that list arbitrarily or by accident, he said, and those innocent people have no recourse to get themselves cleared.
The Collins proposal, Graham said, would only apply to truly suspicious suspects. In the event a person was included on the No Fly or Selectee Lists inadvertently, they would be guaranteed a chance to challenge that determination in court, it allows.
“Here’s what I’m willing to say to the people of South Carolina,” Graham said. “We’re at war and I don’t know how to protect our nation without really changing the way we do business in a fashion that makes sense. The likelihood of someone being on this list and buying a gun to use it in a terrorist attack, to me, is far greater than the likelihood of an innocent person being on this list.”
As the owner of a military-style AR-15 rifle, Graham also implored the powerful National Rifle Association not to stand in the way of the only viable compromise gun legislation currently on the table.
“I understand your concern,” Graham said, “but every right, whether speech or buying a weapon or any other constitutional right, has boundaries on it.”
The NRA later on Tuesday called the plan “unconstitutional.”
Especially given the gun lobby’s stated opposition, it’s not clear whether Collins’ proposal has the votes to proceed. Earlier in the day, all indications suggested it wasn’t dead on arrival. Senate GOP leadership promised the measure would be voted on as an amendment to the pending 2017 Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill. That could take place as early as this week. Democratic leaders expressed some concerns the measure didn’t go far enough, preferring the more expansive bill offered by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., which senators voted down Monday night. But Democrats didn’t reject the legislation outright.
As for the junior senator from South Carolina, Republican Tim Scott, he told reporters that he wasn’t ready to take a definitive position on the Graham-supported bill.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Scott said. “I’m not sure if it gets my vote, but we’ll take a serious look at it.”
Emma Dumain is The Post and Courier’s Washington correspondent.