Correction: A web headline for this story originally misstated U.S. Sen. James Lankford's title. The headline has been corrected.

The United States should be as resolute about human rights in dealing with China as it is with trade, U.S. Sen. James Lankford told the Rotary Club of Tulsa on Wednesday.

“Trade with China is very important,” Lankford said while responding to a question about the Trump administration’s ongoing trade war with the Asian giant. “But let me just say this: There are few places on earth that have a worse human rights record than China.”

Lankford said the U.S. should make China’s suppression of political and religious nonconformists part of negotiations with the Chinese government.

“While we’re working on the trade issues — and we should — we should also address the human rights issues in China, as well,” he said. “And to make sure we stand up and say, for the 2 million-plus Muslims who are in concentration camps and reeducation facilities in China, that’s not acceptable to a nation like ours.

“That makes (negotiations) messy, but both are exceptionally important to us.”

On the trade side, Lankford said President Donald Trump has not been as erratic in his application of tariffs against China as it might appear.

“The last five presidents have all tried to get a deal with China,” Lankford said. “This is an issue for us to be resolved. (Trump) has been fairly unorthodox in how he’s taken this on, to say the least, but he’s basically saying: ‘Everybody else has tried. … I’m going to try it in a different way than them.’ ”

Like other members of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation, Lankford touted the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, known as USMCA, as an improvement on what they say was an outdated North American Free Trade Agreement.

Also like other members of the delegation, Lankford said the main obstacle to passage of the USMCA is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whom he described as “against free trade.”

“If (Pelosi) will allow it to come up, I think it will pass,” he said. “There’s a whole group of old-line Democrats in the House who are at odds with the new young socialists that just got elected. They’re saying over and over again, ‘I’m a Democrat, but I’m not one of those Democrats.’ They want a chance to vote on something that’s free market capitalism, and this trade agreement is it.”

Gun violence: Lankford faced a barrage of questions about guns and gun violence at a public meeting in Jenks on Wednesday night.

Some of Lankford’s answers may have surprised the audience, many of whom wore the red T-shirts of Mothers Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, the activist organization working, among other things, to repeal Oklahoma’s permitless carry law.

Lankford said individuals must be held accountable for selling firearms to people already barred from having them and pointed out that doing so is a felony, although the law is seldom enforced.

“I have a concern with individual sellers who are selling to someone who is not legal to be able to purchase,” Lankford said. “This is something we have not been enforcing.”

He said that “there’s a gap in the law that if I’m an individual selling to a person — my responsibility — here’s a quote from the law: ‘I had “no reason to believe.”’ That is so loose anyone could say, ‘I sold to someone because I had no reason to believe they were a felon.’ All you have to do is not ask, and you can sell to anybody you want. We’ve got to fix that,” Lankford said.

“It’s something I’ve pushed on. … We’ve got to fix the issue of sellers being accountable for who they’re selling to. They’re not selling soft drinks and candy bars. They’re selling firearms.”

Lankford said he does not support a blanket ban on so-called assault weapons, explaining that any weapon in the hands of someone who should not have it is a threat, while many peaceful, law-abiding citizens enjoy recreational shooting.

“What I have a problem with is the idea that if you own an assault weapon you want to murder a police officer, and I don’t believe that’s true,” he said.

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Randy Krehbiel


Twitter: @rkrehbiel

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