TAMPA — The worst mass shooting in America's history is the latest evidence that the country needs to bring back a ban on assault-style weapons, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor said Monday.
"All you had to do was watch these iPhone videos of what happened at the Pulse club in Orlando as this terrorist walked in and shot," Castor, D-Tampa, said during news conference Monday. "Forty-eight people he was able to take down in a very short period of time."
Authorities say Omar Mateen was armed with an AR-15 rifle and a handgun when he entered Pulse early Sunday and started shooting. He was later shot in an exchange of gunfire with police. Mateen, who was born in America, had security and firearm licenses and his guns were legally purchased within the past week.
The country had an assault weapons ban, signed by then-President Bill Clinton, from 1994 until 2004, when it expired. The law defined "semiautomatic assault weapon," in part, as a weapon that shoots a round with each trigger pull without re-cocking the weapon. Automatic weapons, which can shoot multiple rounds with one trigger pull, are tightly regulated under existing law.
Mass shootings like the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in New Town, Conn., and last year's shooting in San Bernandino, Calif., have sparked calls to renew the ban on semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines, but supporters have failed to win over Congress. The proposal has met with opposition from gun control advocates.
Castor is already a cosponsor on a bill that would renew the ban.
"There is no reason that our neighbors, if you're not in the military, if you're not in law enforcement, (should) have the ability to walk into a gun store and buy a high-capacity machine gun," she said.
Castor also called for Congress to pass a law barring people on the FBI's terrorist watch list from purchasing firearms at gun stores. She is sponsoring a bill with U.S. Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican.
"We've got to get better at this," Castor said, citing a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office that found more than 1,000 people on the watch list were able to walk into a gun store and buy a firearm. "That is a reasonable law to pass. It doesn't affect sportsmen, it doesn't affect hunters, but it could save lives."
That suspected terrorists can legally purchase weapons in the U.S. has been a fierce point of contention in Congress and among gun-control advocates. The Senate voted down an amendment last year that would block suspected terrorists from buying guns and explosives. The amendment, which needed 60 votes to pass due to procedural rules, failed 45-54. Senate Democrats then tried and failed to force consideration of the bill.
Mateen was placed on a terrorist watch list maintained by the FBI when its agents questioned him in 2013 and 2014 about potential ties to terrorism, the FBI said Sunday. He was subsequently removed from that database after the FBI closed its two investigations, the agency said.
"Maybe neither one of these new laws would have impacted what happened here," Castor said. "But if we could stop another tragedy, another massacre like this, I think it's reasonable to say, here are a couple of common sense laws we could pass to make Americans more safe.
"I'm pretty tired of having moments of silence (in Congress) without action and without a plan to prevent these kinds of tragedies from happening again."
Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.