Could legislation now stalled in Congress have stopped Omar Mateen from buying the guns he used to murder 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando early Sunday morning? Democrats made that case aggressively on Monday as they renewed their push for a bill that would block people on the terrorist watch list from being able to purchase firearms.
It’s not clear that this is true, however. Mateen was under FBI investigation for connections to terrorism two separate times in 2013 and 2014, the agency’s director, James Comey, confirmed on Monday. During that time, the government placed him in the Terrorist Screening Database, more commonly known as the terror watch list. (The no-fly list is a smaller subset of this list that forbids suspected individuals from boarding a commercial plane.) When those inquires ended, the government removed him from the list, the Los Angeles Times reported. Even if the legislation had been enacted, it would not have ensured that the FBI would have flagged Mateen when he went to buy an assault-style rifle and handgun in the days before Sunday’s massacre.
As it happened, Mateen was a security guard licensed to carry concealed weapons in Florida, and he passed the necessary background checks to legally buy the guns he used. Beginning in May 2013, the FBI’s Miami field office investigated Mateen for 10 months, Comey said, based on reports that he made statements that were “inflammatory and contradictory” concerning his coworkers and terrorism while working as a contract security guard at a local courthouse. During that first investigation, officials questioned him twice, placed him under surveillance, and “introduced confidential sources to him” to determine if he was a terrorist. At one point, his colleagues said, he claimed family ties to al-Qaeda. At another, Comey said, he voiced support for Hezbollah and said he wanted law enforcement to raid his home and assault his family so he could be martyred.