WASHINGTON - Congressional Democrats are trying to build support for an effort to bar gun purchases by terror suspects, hoping to take advantage of the same public anxieties about security that gave Republicans a ringing House victory.
The push seems likely to fall victim to opposition from the National Rifle Association and congressional gun-rights backers, chiefly Republicans, who have smothered firearms curbs for years. If Republicans who control Congress block votes on the proposal, Democrats could gain sympathy and support from angry voters.
"By leaving this terrorist loophole open, Republicans are leaving every community in America vulnerable to attacks by terrorists armed with assault rifles and explosives purchased legally, in broad daylight," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), said Friday in a written statement.
The bill by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) would have the attorney general compile names of known and suspected terrorists, likely drawing from huge lists the government already keeps. Federally licensed gun dealers would be barred from selling firearms to people on that list if government officials believed they planned to use the weapons for terrorism.
Gun dealers are prohibited from selling to 10 categories of people, including many convicted criminals or those with severe mental illness. But people on the government's terror watch lists - including those kept off airlines - are not automatically disqualified from buying from gun dealers. The FBI is notified when a background check for the purchase generates a match with the watch list, and agents often use that information to step up surveillance.
NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker noted that there have been numerous instances of innocent people mistakenly added to terror lists. She accused Democrats of trying to take advantage of public alarm following attacks in Paris.
Feinstein's measure echoes legislation that the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.) proposed repeatedly over the last decade and that Rep. Peter King (R., N.Y.) has long pushed. Those measures never received a vote.