Late last year, congressional Democrats responded to mass shootings in the U.S. and abroad by trying to give the attorney general unilateral power to deny the right to purchase a gun to anyone she suspected "to be or have been engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism, or providing material support thereof." The only condition was that she have an undefined "reasonable belief" that that suspected person "may use a firearm in connection with terrorism."
Despite the words "reasonable belief," many Republicans didn't want to give the A.G. arbitrary power to declare anyone ineligible for a core constitutional right (the Second Amendment) connected to a core human right (self-defense). In the past, the notion of "material support" for terrorism has been stretched to cover even selling nonviolent professional services to an organization the U.S. has proscribed as terrorist.
In early December, right after a massacre in California was carried out by apparently radicalized Muslims, Senate Republicans blocked the idea on an almost entirely party-line vote. While Dianne Feinstein (D–Calif.), who added the bill as an amendment to a separate measure, felt it was a "no brainer," John Cornyn (R–Texas) said it was for people who "believe the federal government is omniscient and all-competent," adding: "This is not the way we're supposed to do things in this country."
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Disarming Suspects".