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Arizona Senator Weighs In On Senate's Failure To Pass Gun Measures


One of those four measures that failed yesterday in the Senate was filed by California Senator Dianne Feinstein and other Democrats. It would have stopped people the government suspects of terrorism from buying guns. Today, a bipartisan group of senators announced a scaled-back version of that proposal. It would target only people in two subsets of the federal terrorism watch list, the no-fly list and what's called the secondary screening selectee list. Senator Jeff Flake is a co-sponsor of the new proposal. He's a Republican from Arizona. He has an A rating from the National Rifle Association. So I asked him why he supported this proposal.

JEFF FLAKE: Well, I think this is consistent with what the NRA says that they want. This has due process. It's a narrow list. I think this is just both good policy, and it's the right thing to do.

MCEVERS: When you say due process, explain what you mean.

FLAKE: Well, if somebody is denied a gun purchase because they're on the selectee list or the no-fly list, they can go directly to a court of appeals and ask the government to provide evidence that says that they shouldn't have a gun. The burden is on government here. And if the plaintiff prevails, then the government pays their attorney's fees.

MCEVERS: So this would actually stop a very small number of Americans. I mean, we're talking something like 2,700 people...

FLAKE: Right.

MCEVERS: ...From getting firearms. I guess, you know, you have to ask the question why do it?

FLAKE: Well, because it might stop 2,700 people from doing it. You don't know who the next terrorist is going to be. If you look back at Florida, at Mateen, he was once on one of these lists. This has a look-back provision. So if somebody is on a list then moves off it, as he did, then the FBI is still notified of an attempted purchase. And so they theoretically would have known and could have scrutinized or followed him at least.

MCEVERS: The previous proposal by Senator Feinstein would have included a lot more people. I mean, if we follow that argument, why not try to include more people on the list?

FLAKE: Well, because the list that she had that's the so-called watch list. It includes more than a million names. Some of them aren't matched with date of birth or social security number. And so it's a far greater risk of innocent Americans being put on that list.

MCEVERS: But if you've got this appeal process where you can go to a court of law and it's - the burden is on the government as you say to answer that appeal - why not include more names for the sake of looking for more people?

FLAKE: Well, let's say you have to draw the line somewhere. And that argument could go further and say just put every American on the list. I don't think that we should do that. But I think that...

MCEVERS: That's not every American. It's actually people who are already been determined to be on the terrorism watch List.

FLAKE: No, I know. I'm saying that if you make the argument that you ought to make it broader, then why not make it even broader? Because it's frankly pretty unlikely that somebody who's on that terror watch list will go and try to purchase a gun legally. Many of them will try illegally. So we're under no illusion that this is going to stop every incidence of terror. And we're just saying that this is a way to, on a bipartisan basis, have enough support to move forward and actually get something done.

MCEVERS: What about, you know, you can't help but think about other mass shootings that have happened - places like Aurora and Newtown. I mean, isn't that really what we should be talking about here?

FLAKE: Well, I think you make progress where you can. You know, this and - this legislation isn't intended to give some politicians cover for the next election or be used as a cudgel to beat the other party or another person with. This is actually intended to deal with a problem that's been identified in a gap that exists. So we're making some progress.

MCEVERS: Do you think there's any chance that the House will even take up this measure, let alone pass it?

FLAKE: I think if there's a big vote in the Senate, then that typically will move the House where it wouldn't otherwise. If it's a tight vote and it would produce a tight vote or a vote they don't want to deal with in the House, then it probably won't. But if we have an overwhelming vote, which this could be, then that would likely prompt them to action.

MCEVERS: Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, thank you very much.

FLAKE: Hey, thanks for having me on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.