Capitol Hill stalemate on gun control back in spotlight after Orlando shooting
JUDY WOODRUFF: And now we turn now to Capitol Hill and how lawmakers are responding to the attack in Orlando.
We begin with Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California. She is the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee.
Senator Feinstein, welcome back to the "NewsHour."
I don't know if you have been able to hear the conversation we have just been having. But based on what you know, is it your sense that law enforcement intelligence agencies did everything they could to do something about this man, Omar Mateen, before this happened?
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), California: Well, first of all, Judy, I have great respect both for Mike Leiter and Ali Soufan. So, I very much agree with what they have had to say.
With respect of dealing with the classic lone wolf, we are, I think, seeing the real problem. And the one thing that came out of all of this that I thought was good is that the Islamic community, and particularly the religious part of that community, is beginning to stand up, take notice and say, no, this is not us, and say it over and over and over again.
And this last perpetrator that really did such a dastardly event by striking at a lesbian and gay community that has struggled for equality over so many years, and now to have them subject to this kind of terrible event is just really awful.
Having said that, I think that, as time goes on, we're going to increasingly realize, as Ali spoke about, Ali Soufan spoke about, of how we get a countermessage out in a way that is effective.
I think law enforcement has responded. As far as I know, this country is responding with full resources. The FBI has sent an additional complement of men, of 80 men and women, into Florida. They have a big number already in Florida.
They are leading the investigation. Everybody is cooperating. And I think the investigation seems to be going very well. How you stop this doesn't seem to be going very well. This is a man, nine years employed, good job, semi-law enforcement, wanted law enforcement, went to mosques, prayed, and somehow became so alienated.
Now, whether this is from social media, whether it's from contact, or whether it's really a displaced aggression, I don't know. But this is a big problem. And we're going to be stuck with it for a very long time, I believe.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator, I want to ask you about the fact that you are one of those in the Senate who is pushing this legislation to prevent individuals on a terror watch list from buying, obtaining a firearm or explosives.
Why do you think you may have some success with that now, when it's been impossible to pass in the past?
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Well, I think people are beginning to realize that the attorney general should have the ability to place people on the terrorist watch list and deny sale of weapons to them.
And this bill essentially gives the attorney general those regulations in law. In other words, she can move to take action. And that is what this bill does. I think it's very, very important.
I think, on another subject, the AR-15, this is a military-style assault weapon, in its truest sense of the word, big bullets, terrible physical damage. Look at the death rate, and I think more of that will come out.
Not to take action — we tried after Sandy Hook. We failed. I tried after San Bernardino to get this no guns for terrorists through. We failed. This Congress has to realize that they need to step up and we need to protect people now.
And I think we have got a full component of law enforcement. I think we have got relatively good intelligence. As Director Comey told us, there is an investigation going on in every state.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator, two things.
If Omar Mateen — Omar Mateen, as you know, wasn't on a watch list in the most recent past. So he wouldn't have been prevented from buying a weapon. But, second of all, the argument that many of your Republican colleagues have made about this is that there is still the potential that people who are innocent are on a watch list, and they would be prevented from buying a gun.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Well, then you can petition and prove that you are innocent and get off of the watch list.
But, you know, if we want to prevent this — you know, this bill was drafted actually during the Bush administration when a man, a terrorist, went back to Syria, an American, and said to everybody, now exploit the loopholes in America's laws, and you buy weapons.
Well, this is — we have got huge loopholes. And it's wrong. And we have got to begin to close them one by one by one. The terrorist bill, no guns for terrorists, is the first step. Assault weapons is the second step. This man shouldn't have been able — if he had been on the terrorist watch list, he wouldn't have been able to buy that assault weapon. And I think that's important.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Dianne Feinstein, we thank you.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Judy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And now we get a Republican perspective now from Congressman Will Hurd of Texas. He's on the House Committee on Homeland Security. He previously served as an undercover officer for the CIA in the Middle East and South Asia.
Congressman Hurd, thank you for being with us. I don't know if you heard, but Senator Dianne Feinstein just said that it's time for Congress to step up in the wake of this horrible incident in Orlando.
And, as you know, she and other senators are promoting legislation that would make it impossible for someone on a terror watch list to buy a weapon.
Congressman Hurd, are you able to hear me?
REP. WILL HURD (R), Texas: Yes. Yes. Yes, Judy.
Listen, nobody is supporting putting weapons in the hands of terrorists. But the reality is, it's unfortunate when an event like what happened in Orlando, both sides of the political aisle retreat to some of the same tired talking points.
The bill that the good senator from California was talking about wouldn't have prevented what happened in Orlando. It wouldn't have prevented what happened in San Bernardino. The reality is, on a no-fly list — if you are on a no-fly list now and you try to buy a weapon, that information goes to the FBI, and the FBI has influence on whether that sale is able to go through or not.
The reality is, is what we need to be focused on here is focusing on taking the fight to the doorsteps of terrorists, whether it's ISIS, al-Qaida, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Boko Haram. We need to take the fight to them.
And we also need to make sure that we are countering that ideology . The two gentlemen earlier were talking about this. What makes ISIS so dangerous is its ability to inspire people, even if they are 6,000 miles away and they have never met them.
We are a country that has the most creative minds, the best brands. We should be all working together to counter this ideology. And the third thing we need to be doing is making sure that we have national intelligence information in the hands of local law enforcement. We see what happened in Orlando and San Bernardino, that it was local law enforcement that has to respond to these kind of activities.
And when I started in the CIA, it was before 9/11. And have I seen how intelligence-sharing has improved significantly from that time to now. The next step is making sure we're getting the right information in the hands of local law enforcement.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But, Congressman, why wouldn't it be another important tool in the hands of law enforcement to be able to say if someone's on a watch list, if they are being investigated for something they did or are suspected of doing, that they should at least during that period not be allowed to buy a weapon or explosives?
REP. WILL HURD: Well…
JUDY WOODRUFF: Why is that objectionable?
REP. WILL HURD: Again, the failsafe is there if you are on the no-fly list. If are you are on the no-fly, the FBI is reviewing that information.
The reality is, is a weapon is just a tool. Whether you use a long gun, a handgun or explosives, these are tools in the hands of a terrorist. And if you are that deranged that you are willing to kill 49 innocent people and take your own life, then are you going to get that tool however you can in order to do your deed.
And I think the important thing that we need to be focusing on is what I just said. Take the fight to them and make sure that we're countering that ideology. And that is where — there is not going to be any one piece of legislation that prevents another Orlando from happening.
It is going to be a lot of work. This is something that has been going on and that the House has been looking at for the last 15 months. I sat on a task force that looked at four and five years going into Iraq and Syria. And we have had nine pieces of legislation that tightens up loopholes in our visa process to make sure that we are still allowing commerce and people to move back and forth, but it's making sure that we're having all the tools and information in the hands of people that are issuing the visas.
So, this is a long-term fight.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman, is there any additional restriction on the ability of individuals who are being investigated, who may have committed a crime or maybe thinking about a terrorist act, who have been proven in some way, or who law enforcement has a reason to be concerned about, is there any additional restriction that you would be willing to go along with in order to strengthen the hands of law enforcement in this country, where, as you say, there is a worry that people may be committing an act in sympathy with ISIS or another terror group?
REP. WILL HURD: Well, the reality is, there has been a lot of focus on the Orlando killer and how they were interviewed three times by the FBI.
The FBI had a 10-month investigation. They ran undercover officers against him. And they found out he wasn't connected in any form or fashion. It's not breaking the law to be interviewed by the FBI. The FBI has a difficult task. And this lone wolf scenario is one of the hardest things for law enforcement to fight against.
And that's why we need to make sure we're doing everything we can to get information in their hands. So, you know, this is the time that we should be working together, across the aisle on making sure that we're focused on the real issue.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman Will Hurd, we thank you very much.
REP. WILL HURD: Thank you.