U.S. Sen. John Cornyn on Thursday said the Orlando nightclub massacre, which left 49 people dead and 53 injured, has less to do with gun control than the nation's approach to terrorism and warned that any legislative action banning the sales of guns to people listed on the FBI's terrorist watch list must not violate the Second Amendment.
"All of us believe that terrorists should be denied access to firearms. The only question is, do we do that in a constitutional way or an unconstitutional way?" said Cornyn, a Texas Republican, during a Facebook live video.
"We need to pivot purely from the gun control debate to national security and counter-terrorism because clearly that's the inspiration [behind the attack]," he added.
Cornyn's comments came hours after a coalition of Democrats in the U.S. Senate ended a nearly 15-hour-long filibuster in an effort to push for a vote on legislation that they argue would have prohibited Orlando shooter Omar Mateen from legally buying an assault-style rifle because the FBI had investigated him earlier for possible connections to terrorism.
Cornyn said he was not aware of any proposed legislation that would have prohibited Mateen, who had been a licensed gun owner since 2011, from owning a firearm.
Mateen was investigated by the FBI in 2013 and 2014, but no credible threat was ever found, according to agency officials. He was not under investigation at the time of the attack. Mateen pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in a 911 call during the rampage, authorities said.
Cornyn, the Senate's majority whip, said he and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, have been exploring common ground on legislation related to preventing suspected terrorists from buying firearms. However, the two have made little headway. They are currently backing vastly different proposals.
Feinstein's measure would allow the U.S. Attorney General to ban the sales of guns to known or suspected terrorists if there is "reasonable belief" the weapons may be used to carry out an attack.
Cornyn said he doesn't "trust this administration and the attorney general to make unilateral decisions on constitutional rights like the Second Amendment." His bill would give federal authorities three days after a suspected terrorist attempted to purchase a gun to prove there was probable cause to deny the sale.
Cornyn's fellow Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, further highlighted the divide between Republicans and Democrats on the Orlando massacre during a speech from the Senate floor Thursday.
"You don't defeat terrorism by taking away our guns," Cruz said. "You defeat terrorism by using our guns. And this body should not be engaged in a political circus trying to restrict the Second Amendment. Instead, we should be focused on the problem at hand."
Cruz argued that the Democrats' filibuster was more about "an election coming up in November" rather than the issues at play in the Orlando shooting.
"Let's talk about ISIS," Cruz said. "Let's talk about radical Islamic terrorism. Let's talk about the failures of the last seven years of this administration to keep this country safe."
Abby Livingston contributed to this report.