Thursday, November 23, 2017
Politics

Orlando attack pushes gun control and terrorism into forefront of presidential campaign

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WASHINGTON — The Orlando massacre thrusts the contentious debate over gun control into the election season and into Florida, a state that will likely decide the winner of the presidential race and where firearm regulations are already controversial.

But demands for a swift political response in Tallahassee and Washington were met with equally pitched alarm over the attacker's ties to terrorism and, as Sunday wore on, familiar and conflicting stances emerged between Democrats and Republicans.

"This is the deadliest mass shooting in the history of the United States and it reminds us once more that weapons of war have no place on our streets," presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton said Sunday.

Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee, pressed for a aggressive approach to fighting terrorism and redoubled his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country. His response feeds into a view that he says what many people think, but will not say: that Muslims are dangerous and politically correct responses don't keep us safe.

"When will this stop? When will we get tough, smart & vigilant?" Trump posted on Twitter. "Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don't want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!"

A day earlier in Tampa, Trump criticized Clinton on guns and advocated for arming people in order to fight back against mass shooters. "Let the bullets go in the other direction," he said, forming his hand as if he were holding a gun. "BOOM. BOOM. BOOM."

That dynamic — calls for new laws versus an all-out war on terror — will intensify in the coming days, reviving the discussion that followed the last mass shooting, in San Bernardino, Calif., in December.

A day after that tragedy, the Senate defeated a measure to expand background checks on people who purchase firearms, underscoring the political muscle of the National Rifle Association.

It is against those odds that advocates for restrictions will try again.

"Tomorrow, when we return to Washington, we should have a moment of silence for the victims — immediately followed by a vote to close the loophole that allows people on the terror watch list to buy assault rifles — or any weapon," said U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton said Sunday. "This isn't politics; it's common sense."

President Barack Obama, again confronting a deadly rampage in America, noted how the killer was armed with a handgun and AR-15-style assault rifle. He obtained them legally within the past week, authorities said, despite having been interviewed by the FBI in the past for unrelated cases that were closed.

"This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school, or in a house of worship, or a movie theater, or in a nightclub," Obama said from the White House. "And we have to decide if that's the kind of country we want to be. And to actively do nothing is a decision as well."

Obama has unsuccessfully sought throughout his tenure to push new restrictions on guns, including a ban on assault weapons after the 2012 slayings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Now a new tragedy brings the debate into the center. Coming as the general election between Clinton and Trump is effectively under way, the shooting put a bigger focus on Florida, the nation's largest battleground state.

It is a state whose gun laws are constantly debated. Republicans, who dominate the Legislature, have pushed numerous freedoms for gun owners, many sought by the NRA.

Hours after the Orlando shooting, the League of Women Voters urged supporters to call on their representatives to act on gun restrictions. "We must have expanded background checks and extensive REQUIRED safety training for all permit holders," the group said. "This is a public safety issue."

Florida Gov. Rick Scott sidestepped questions Sunday over new gun regulations, and fellow Republicans generally steered clear of the issue, focusing on the lives lost and terrorism.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., told reporters in Orlando who asked about guns and terrorism: "The issue isn't the weapons they are using. The issue here is ideology."

Clinton has made gun control an issue in her primary battle with Bernie Sanders. She has called for "sensible action" to address gun violence, including comprehensive background checks and reinstating the assault weapons ban.

After more information about shooting came out, Clinton issued a statement that declared the murders "an act of terror" and "also an act of hate."

"For now, we can say for certain that we need to redouble our efforts to defend our country from threats at home and abroad. That means defeating international terror groups, working with allies and partners to go after them wherever they are, countering their attempts to recruit people here and everywhere, and hardening our defenses at home," she said.

"Finally," her statement read, "we need to keep guns like the ones used last night out of the hands of terrorists or other violent criminals."

Trump during his Tampa rally said Clinton "wants to abolish the Second Amendment" (a claim PolitiFact has ruled False) and take away people's guns. His comments about arming people to protect against attackers are not universally shared among Republicans, but a common sentiment is that more gun control is not the answer. Trump has tapped into fears over terrorism, and the Orlando attack could fuel an issue resonating with voters.

"If we do not get tough and smart real fast, we are not going to have a country anymore," he said in a statement Sunday afternoon. "Because our leaders are weak, I said this was going to happen — and it is only going to get worse. I am trying to save lives and prevent the next terrorist attack. We can't afford to be politically correct anymore."

Trump had planned a speech Monday in New Hampshire to attack Clinton as unfit to be commander-in-chief. He said Sunday that the speech would go on, but would "address this terrorist attack, immigration and national security."

Times political editor Adam C. Smith contributed to this report.

 
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