Delegation Wants Tougher Gun Laws To Aid Fight Against Islamic State

The mass shooting in Orlando has added fuel to Connecticut's fiery debate over gun laws.

HARTFORD — The day after a self-radicalized gunman killed 49 people in a crowded Florida nightclub, members of Connecticut's congressional delegation said stricter gun control laws are necessary to aid in the fight against the Islamic State.

"Assault weapons are becoming the weapon of choice for terrorists in this country," U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy said at a press conference Monday morning at the state Capitol, where he was joined by Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Rep. Elizabeth Esty.

"Would-be terrorists are not sitting in their basements making bombs, they are walking into gun stores and purchasing assault weapons legally," Murphy said. "Why on earth would we facilitate the work of ISIS to find lone wolf attackers in the United States by continuing to arm them with military-style weapons?"

President Barack Obama said Monday that the shooter, 29-year-old Omar Mateen, was "homegrown," inspired by extremist information he obtained over the internet. The two presumptive Democratic and Republican nominees for president also traded charges.

Without naming Donald Trump in her speech in Cleveland Monday, Hillary Clinton denounced "inflammatory anti-Muslim rhetoric" and decried his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States, saying that such a policy would make it more difficult to combat terrorism.

Clinton said as president she would take on lone wolves who might carry out terrorist attacks in the United States. She also called for stronger gun-control laws that would prevent suspected terrorists from gaining access to weapons.

"It's essential that we stop terrorists from getting the tools they need to carry out the attacks," Clinton said. "I believe weapons of war have no place on our streets."

Trump spoke in Manchester, N.H., Monday, criticizing Clinton and Obama for putting "political correctness above common sense" and repeating his call to restrict access of Muslims to the country. He was particularly critical of a proposal to ramp up the number of refugees coming to the country from Syria.

"Hillary Clinton says the solution is to ban guns," Trump said. "They tried that in France, which has among the toughest gun laws in the world, and 130 were brutally murdered by Islamic terrorists in cold blood. Her plan is to disarm law-abiding Americans, abolishing the Second Amendment, and leaving only the bad guys and terrorists with guns. She wants to take away Americans' guns, then admit the very people who want to slaughter us."

At the Hartford press conference, Blumenthal repeated his calls for a reinstatement of the federal assault weapons ban, universal background checks on the purchase of guns and a ban of people on federal terrorism watch lists from purchasing firearms. Mateen had twice been investigated by the FBI and was — at least temporarily — on one of the no-fly lists.

"From the standpoint of a member of the Armed Services Committee we ought to be arming our troops with these kinds of weapons but keeping them off our streets and out of the hands of dangerous people," Blumenthal said.

In the Republican-controlled Congress, and in an election year, it's unlikely the provisions would be approved. But Murphy, Blumenthal and Esty hope that framing the debate in the larger context of the fight against terrorism will convince their Republican colleagues, and Democrats who voted against previous gun control measures, to join them.

"It is unconscionable that Congress right now has not acted," Esty said. "Let's be very clear, this young man was interviewed twice, temporarily placed on the terror watch list, and yet even if he'd stayed on that watch list, he would have been allowed to buy those guns. That makes no sense. We need to stop the madness in Congress."

Esty said as the country gains ground in its fight against the Islamic State group abroad, she expects more lone wolf-style terrorist attacks at home. A couple who killed 14 people at a government building in San Bernardino, Calif., in December also became radicalized after taking in information over the internet. One of the weapons used in that attack, an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle, was the same type used in Sunday's slayings.

"If there is a lesson from these murders … it is that assault weapons are at the center of many of these acts," Blumenthal said.

Dan Carter, a Republican state representative from Bethel who is running against Blumenthal, was critical of the senator calling for stricter gun laws and "pitting people on both sides of this contentious issue against each other.

"The answer is not a singular policy, but rather a new approach to confronting the threat of violent, homegrown radicalization and empowering law enforcement at every level to protect innocent Americans from these continuous attacks," he said in a statement.

Murphy, Blumenthal, Esty and others have stepped up their criticism of Congress' inaction on gun control in recent days. Rep. Jim Himes said he wouldn't take part in any moment of silence in the House if Republican leaders schedule one and would encourage his fellow Democrats to leave the chamber too.

"Our silence does not honor the victims, it mocks them," he said in a tweet Sunday night. He continued: "God will ask you why you did not defer to the will of the people as children poured out their blood. And we will answer with silence."

In an interview Monday Himes said Congress is "complicit" in the killings.

"I'm not participating in any more feel-good tepid distractions from what the Congress should really be doing," he said. "I'm done explaining to my constituents the inner workings of Congress. I'm going to start talking in very strong moral language."

Himes said he supports the Second Amendment and enjoys target shooting, but a "massive cult of gun worship" has taken hold in the country. "The Congress could stop a lot of this," he said.

Information from The Washington Post is included in this report.

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