Everybody seems to have an association in Washington these days, so let’s pretend Islamist terrorists have one too. Travel and visas aren’t an issue for them, since American citizens are increasingly planning and carrying out terror attacks. So their No. 1 issue would probably be making sure that terrorists have easy access to the weapons they need for such attacks.
It’s true that terrorists have used box cutters and pressure cookers to strike at Americans in the past, but because guns have been used for the majority of attacks since 9/11, let’s name the association accordingly: the Radical Islamist Rifle Association.
RIRA’s approach to the Hill would be bipartisan. It would make sure Republicans protect the right for absolutely anyone in the United States to buy as many guns and as much ammunition as they want, even Islamist terrorists. RIRA would also convince Democrats to vote against modest gun restrictions, which won't solve the larger problem of gun violence, but could keep guns out of the hands of suspected terrorists.
RIRA would mobilize quickly after terrorist attacks to make sure Congress does nothing that could make it harder for a terrorist to buy a gun. But RIRA would otherwise lay low to let senators and House members become preoccupied by other priorities, like distancing themselves from Donald Trump, or designating June 20 as "American Eagle Day," as the Senate did Monday.
Even after Omar Mateen killed 49 people in Orlando in the biggest terror attack since 9/11, the Senate voted down four separate measures that would have restricted access to guns for suspected terrorists, among other things.
Had Mateen flown a small plane into the Florida nightclub, you can bet Congress would be beefing up security at private airfields and restricting access to small planes. Had he poisoned the entire water supply in Orlando and killed 49 people, how fast do you think Congress would be investigating and then adding protections to every municipal water supply in America? But because Mateen’s weapons of choice were guns, like six other deadly jihadi attacks in the U.S. since 9/11, Congress has again done nothing in the face of obvious and growing danger.
There is a perverse irony in the fact that Mateen and other American-born terrorists exploited the liberties guaranteed to them in the Constitution, including the Second Amendment, and abused those liberties in a plot to kill their fellow Americans. Only Congress can step in to make sure terrorists do not use those freedoms against the nation that granted them in the first place.
The Senate will have one more chance to act this year, thanks to Sen. Susan Collins, the Maine Republican whose role it has become to save Washington from itself and its self-loathing partisanship. Just as she fashioned a middle ground in 2013 to re-open the federal government and avoid a U.S. default, Collins has taken the lead on a compromise bill to prevent suspected terrorists from buying guns.
That the Senate even needs to compromise on this is mind-boggling, but here it goes. The Collins bill would keep anyone on the No-Fly and Selectee lists from buying a gun, including 2,500 American citizens and 107,500 foreign nationals. It would also create a look-back provision, for anyone on the broader terrorist watch list in the last five years, as Mateen was, and would create exceptions for national security investigations and due process.
A few signs emerged Tuesday that Collins’ bill might finally be the one to get through. Collins was joined at her Tuesday press conference by three Democrats and three Republicans and independent Sen. Angus King, the seven of whom looked to be on a spectrum from disbelief to nauseous that the Senate had failed, yet again, to pass the most basic of homeland security protections after the shooting in Orlando. Earlier in the day, Texas Sen. John Cornyn said the Collins bill would get a vote on the Senate floor.
But no sooner had Cornyn agreed to a vote than the White House said it had concerns with the Collins proposal, thus potentially dooming the measure to failure without changes very soon.
The Radical Islamist Rifle Association doesn't exist, but it really doesn't need to when all of the work of protecting terrorists' access to guns is being done for them.
Roll Call columnist Patricia Murphy covers national politics for The Daily Beast. Previously, she was the Capitol Hill bureau chief for Politics Daily and founder and editor of Citizen Jane Politics. Follow her on Twitter @1PatriciaMurphy .