Closing the ‘Terror Gap’ on Gun PurchasesBy Kevin Robillard
June 27, 2009
It may be hard to imagine that a suspected terrorist can buy a gun in the United States but federal law allows it — and two lawmakers are trying to close that loophole.
A recent Government Accountability Office report found that 963 background checks during gun purchases found applicants matching names on the terrorist watch list and 865, or more than 90 percent, of these purchases were allowed because there was no legal way to stop them. One person on the watch list was able to buy explosives.
“The current law simply defies common sense,” Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg , D-N.J., said in a statement June 22. “This new report is proof positive that known and suspected terrorists are exploiting a major loophole in our law, threatening our families and our communities. This ‘terror gap’ has been open too long, and our national security demands that we shut it down.”
Lautenberg and Rep. Peter T. King of New York, the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, are sponsoring legislation that would authorize the attorney general to prevent such purchases if he believes they will use the firearms in terrorist attacks.
Lautenberg, who introduced his bill (S 1317) June 22, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. , D-Mich., and Rep. Robert C. Scott , D-Va., requested the GAO report.
King’s legislation (HR 2159), introduced in April, has picked up several bipartisan cosponsors, most of them from northeastern states.
“Common-sense laws that protect us from terrorism must be put in place,” King said in a statement. “Our role in Congress is to create laws that protect the American people, not to uphold those that give terrorists the right to bear arms.”
So far, both bills have attracted support mainly among lawmakers who staunchly support gun control.
However, the National Rifle Association said the terrorist watch list was too poorly maintained to justify preventing gun sales to people on it.
“The integrity of the terror watch list is poor,” said Chris Cox, the NRA’s chief lobbyist. “To deny law-abiding people due process and their Second Amendment rights based on a secret list is not how we do things in America.”
Under the law, felons, illegal immigrants, and drug addicts are among the groups now denied the right to buy guns.
As of March, more than 1 million names were on the watch list; the GAO and the Justice Department’s inspector general have criticized the list for its inaccuracy.
Lautenberg’s bill includes safeguards to allow people denied gun purchases to challenge the decision. He and King introduced similar legislation in 2007, which was supported by the Bush administration’s Justice Department. The Obama administration is reviewing the proposed legislation.