The governor of Connecticut announced Thursday that he intends to make his state the first in the nation to ban firearms purchases for people on federal watch lists, echoing President Obama’s call for such a measure after the recent spate of terrorist attacks.
Gov. Dan Malloy (D) said he plans to sign an executive order requiring Connecticut State Police to cross-reference the names of anyone seeking a gun permit with databases such as the no-fly list or the terrorism watch list. Anyone on the lists would be denied permission to buy a range of firearms, and those with existing permits would have them revoked.
“Like all Americans, I have been horrified by the recent terrorist attacks in San Bernardino and Paris,” Malloy said in a statement. “. . . I am taking this common sense step with this executive order simply because it’s the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do. If you can’t fly without clearing government watch lists, you shouldn’t be able to buy a gun.”
The move would require federal approval, and federal officials said that would need to come from the Justice Department. A Justice Department spokesman said the department is reviewing the issue. In the statement, Malloy said he is “working directly with federal officials” on his request and will sign the executive order when they approve.
It is unclear which of the multiple federal watch lists Connecticut would use if federal approval is granted. Malloy said it could be the no-fly list, the terrorism watch list or some combination.
In his statement, Malloy said his proposed executive order would mandate that people on federal watch lists be unable to purchase handguns, shotguns, rifles and ammunition. Connecticut — which passed a series of gun-control measures after 20 children and six adults were killed in a 2012 school shooting in Newtown — already outlaws assault weapons.
“Since Congress so far has failed to act, we will,” the governor said.
The move represents another step in the sharp partisan battle over gun control that has escalated since the recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif. In a speech to the nation Sunday, Obama called on Congress to pass a federal law banning people on the government’s no-fly list from buying guns, as they are now able to do, among other gun-control measures.
There are about 47,000 people on the no-fly list, about 800 of whom are Americans. They are barred from boarding U.S. carriers, U.S.-bound flights and others entering U.S. airspace.
“To begin with, Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun,” Obama said. “What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semiautomatic weapon? This is a matter of national security.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest reiterated that call at his daily briefing on Thursday, even as he declined to respond directly to the Connecticut governor’s proposed state measure. “I can’t speak to any of the specific conversations that Governor Malloy may have had with the White House, but I certainly wouldn’t contradict what he said,” Earnest said. “. . . We know there are many local and state officials across the country who are quite concerned about the impact of gun violence on the communities that they govern.’’
But Earnest said the state-focused approach has “shortcomings. When you’re passing local laws, sometimes it can be a little too easy for somebody to just drive outside that jurisdiction, purchase a firearm that may be prohibited . . . and carry out an act of violence.’’ He added that Obama’s “commitment to keeping guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them continues to be a part of his federal legislative strategy.”
Though Malloy issued the same call for congressional action, it is probably doomed on Capitol Hill. The idea of denying gun purchases to people on federal watch lists has always faced stiff opposition from the National Rifle Association, which argues that would unfairly infringe on the rights of U.S. citizens whose names were mistakenly included on the lists.
Any move to restrict gun rights is likely to spark pushback from pro-gun lawmakers, especially as the 2016 elections near. The Senate, for example, failed last week to pass a measure that would permit the attorney general to deny firearms licenses to known or suspected terrorists, and Republicans have blocked a vote in the House.
Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.