Sen. Ayotte: No Guns for Suspected Terrorists on No-Fly List

Jun 22, 2016

A day after the Senate rejected four separate gun measures, New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte is among a group of bipartisan group of senators backing a new gun proposal—one they hope will end the bipartisan impasse on policies designed to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists. She joined NHPR’s Peter Biello to discuss the proposal.

This bill gives authorities the power to deny firearm sales to people who appear on the TSA’s “No-Fly” list. This seems like a fairly basic policy. Why do you think agreement has been so hard to reach so far?

We had two votes on the Senate floor yesterday on competing proposals, one by Senator Cornyn and one by Senator Feinstein. Similar proposals failed in December on both sides, and so I think this is one failed largely on party lines. There needed to be an opportunity for people to come together, so I think that we had a group of senators on both sides of the aisle that were focused on coming to a “common sense proposal.” The proposal ensures that individuals who are on the no fly list, or the selectee list, won’t be able to purchase guns. There are roughly 2,700 Americans who make up these list, 800 of whom are on the “no fly” list because they’ve been deemed too dangerous to get on a commercial flight. This is a “common sense proposal” that is finally getting bipartisan traction.  I don’t think the legislation will pass without bipartisan support, so I’m glad we’ve been able to work together on something we’ve just introduced.  I hope it will get passed as law,  instead of just having votes that we already know the outcome. Let’s get a result here.

Last night you were one of the few in your party to support Sen. Feinstein’s amendment that would have granted the justice department broader authority to deny firearm sales to people believed to be terrorists. But last year you voted against that. What has changed?

First of all, the proposal in December was added to a bill that we were focused on that was going to repeal the most onerous parts of Obamacare, and so the bill when we voted on it in December would have completely gutted the ability to repeal the most onerous parts of Obamacare then, so it was very different in that regard. This time it just focused on the terrorist watch issue.

That said, I voted for both that proposal and the Cornyn proposal to move forward on debate last night. These were procedural votes. I was concerned with the Feinstien proposal that there were concerns about it being too broad, and that’s why being able to work together on this bipartisan solution that is actually more measured, and ensures that those who are on the no fly or selectee list which the FBI has more credible evidence against, and more vetted evidence, that those are the individuals who are not permitted to purchase firearms. So my vote last night was to come together in a compromise, and I’m hoping we’ll be able to do that with the legislation we introduced today. 

And when the bill was rolled out, Sen. Collins of Maine said you would help draft the part of this bill that addresses the appeals process for people denied gun purchases. What will that appeals process look like?

It will ensure that you can file a challenge in court, and the government has to meet the burden of proof to show that there is credible evidence that you are engaged in terrorism. And in fact that there is credible evidence that you should be on the no fly or selectee list. So the government has the burden of proof.

It also makes sure that if the government cannot meet that burden of proof and they’ve wrongly denied your constitutional rights, they will have to pay the cost of your attorney’s fees. In addition to that, it provides a mechanism for people on an expedited basis to get off the list if they believe they are wrongfully on the list. So this is due process protection that we’re focusing on.

Right now, there’s not a court procedure that’s in place to allow someone who believes…no set court proceeding that allows people if they believe they’re wrongfully on the list to get themselves off of it. This would ensure that if you believe you have been wrongfully denied your rights, you’ll have a way to challenge that.

When you ran for office in 2010 you told the NH New Hampshire Firearms Coalition you’d support legislation to remove gun free school zones and you also supported constitutional carry on all federal property without a permit, among other things. Is it fair to see those positions as different from where you stand right now?

I’m focusing on getting bipartisan results that protect peoples 2nd amendment rights but also make sure that we’re protecting people on safety measures, including this issue that’s right before us, which isn’t obviously going to resolve all the terrorist issues, because we need to do much more in terms of the gaps in our intelligence system and going after ISIS more aggressively, but it does ensure that those on the no fly and selectee list cannot purchase firearms.

And since you’ve been in the Senate, there’ve been a series of mass shootings that have informed the public debate over gun laws. For example, the shooting of Gabby Giffords, San Bernardino, Orlando, how have those events shaped your thinking on gun legislation?

We’ve seen the horrific terrorist attack in Orlando…one of the concerns I had that is also addressed by this legislation is that the terrorist that committed those attacks was actually on the selectee list—he was investigated three times by the FBI but they closed their investigation and he was taken off the list. This would ensure that there’s also a look-back period. If you were on the no fly or selectee list, like this individual, but removed in the last five years, at least the FBI will be notified. So in this case the FBI would have been notified, and that would have allowed them to follow up and take appropriate investigative steps.

So what has shaped my thinking is that I serve on the arms services committee, I’m very focused on ensuring that we address the threat of terrorist, and that’s certainly why I’m working across the aisle to propose the legislation that we have that I hope will come to a result when we get this passed in the law.