Gitmo closure, terror watchlist gun loophole shaping up as key CD6 issues for Carroll, Coffman

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AURORA | National security is quickly distinguishing itself as a top issue in the early months of the race for Colorado’s 6th Congressional District.

A few days after U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, was criticized in ads over votes regarding the terror watchlist “gun loophole,” Coffman’s likely 2016 opponent — state Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora — faces similar ad attacks over President Obama’s proposal to close U.S. facilities at Guantanamo Bay and transfer detainees to mainland America.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, which supports Republican candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives, said this week that they are running an ad critical of Carroll following her comments to The Denver Post last week, in which she reiterated her support for the closing of the Guantanamo Bay facility and said that Colorado could be the proper place to house those detainees — “only if we are the safest place,” she told the Post.

The 60-second ad, which started airing Tuesday on talk radio stations across the Denver-Aurora area, also uses a snippet of audio from news coverage of the mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif. — the perpetrators of that attack are said to have pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State, according to investigators.

The ad is slated to run through the end of the week, according to Zach Hunter, regional press secretary for the NRCC.

Carroll’s stance on the issue of Guantanamo Bay has been highlighted by Republican-affiliated groups since she announced earlier this year she would run for the 6th Congressional District House seat. Coffman is seeking re-election after previously ruling out a bid for U.S. Senate in 2016.

In a statement, Carroll said the ad “is the kind of dirty and dishonest politics that people are sick of coming from Washington, D.C.

“It is absurd to say that I, or anyone else, wants to bring terrorists to Colorado. The fact that Washington Republicans and Mike Coffman would make gross, unsubstantiated claims while politicizing those who have died is disgusting,” Carroll said. “Coffman should apologize because Coloradans deserve better.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which launched its own ad blast against Coffman late last week, reiterated their own message in response to the NRCC ad.

“Last week Congressman Coffman was exposed for voting to keep allowing suspects on the terror watchlist to legally buy assault weapons and explosives, and now he’s desperate to distract his constituents from the truth,” said DCCC spokesman Tyler Law. “Coloradans deserve a representative with some backbone – not someone who has the back of suspects on the terror watchlist.”

The Republican-led Congress has introduced multiple bills in recent weeks in a bid to preclude the Obama administration from spending money on detainee transfers from Guantanamo Bay.

A spokesperson for Rep. Coffman’s office declined to comment on the statements from Carroll and DCCC.

In a Nov. 6 letter to President Barack Obama, Coffman was critical of the White House effort to close Guantanamo Bay and move prisoners stateside. Coffman said he does not want those prisoners afforded the “due process protections that bringing them to the United States may provide.”

In November, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, who is married to Congressman Coffman, joined the attorneys general of Kansas and South Carolina in signing a letter to the White House imploring the administration to not send prisoners to their respective states. The letter said that bringing detainees to those states “will create imminent danger” and make “targets” out of the communities where they are placed.

“Your proposed action denigrates the Constitution and defies the rule of law,” the prosecutors wrote. “It disrupts domestic tranquility and therefore the general welfare of the states.”

As for the DCCC, their focus has remained on Rep. Coffman’s record on legislation to close the terrorist watchlist “gun loophole,” saying that Coffman voted three times in December against consideration of such a bill.

Coffman missed a vote on the measure but has dismissed it in the past as being a “partisan wedge issue.”

Shortly after the Paris attacks in November, Democrats renewed calls for Congress to pass legislation aimed at preventing terrorists from buying guns. Similar bills — including a post-Sept. 11 measure backed by the Justice Department under Republican President George W. Bush — have been stymied for years, thanks in large part to opposition from gun-rights groups and congressional Republicans.

According to a March analysis by the Government Accountability Office, people on the FBI’s consolidated Terrorist Watchlist successfully passed the background check required to purchase firearms more than 90 percent of the time, with more than 2,043 approvals between 2004 and 2014. The office is an investigative branch of Congress.

The FBI is notified when a background check for the purchase of firearms or explosives generates a match with the watch list, and agents often use that information to step up surveillance on terror suspects. Under current federal law, however, association with a terrorist organization doesn’t prohibit a person from possessing firearms or explosives.

About 420,000 people are on the list administered by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, though only about 2 percent of those are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents legally able to buy guns.

Currently, sales by gun dealers are prohibited to 10 categories of people, including those with felony convictions or serious mental illnesses. The proposed legislation would not prevent transactions that don’t involve licensed dealers, such as those between private individuals at gun shows or many sales online, which don’t currently involve background checks.

— Sentinel reporter Rachel Sapin and The Associated Press contributed to this report.