After Times Square, Bloomberg wants gun sale limitsBy TOM BRUNE
May 6, 2010
WASHINGTON - A day after the capture of the accused Times Square car bomber, Mayor Michael Bloomberg told a U.S. Senate panel that it's time to stop allowing suspected terrorists to buy guns.
Despite the hectic pace of a still developing terrorism investigation, Bloomberg said he feels so strongly about the bill that he and New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly came here Wednesday to testify at a long-planned Homeland Security Committee hearing.
"At a time when the threat of terrorism is still very real, as we in New York City know all too well, it is imperative that Congress close this terror gap in our gun laws, and close it quickly," Bloomberg said.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) in the Senate and Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) in the House, would authorize the U.S. attorney general to deny the sale of a gun or the granting of a gun permit to anyone on the U.S. terrorist watch list.
Currently, people on the list are buying weapons: in the past six years people on the list sought to buy guns 1,228 times, and 1,119 of the purchases were allowed, the Government Accountability Office found.
"If society decides there are people too dangerous to get on an airplane with other people, then it's probably appropriate to look very hard before you let them buy a gun," Bloomberg said.
Bloomberg's pitch, however, ran into objections by two moderate Republican senators that a ban would infringe on the Second Amendment right to bear arms of innocent U.S. citizens.
"I understand what you're saying, but we're talking about a constitutional right here," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) responded.
"If all these people are fanatics, and every one of them on the watch list is a terrorist planning an attack, it would be odd that 1,228 who we know tried to buy a gun, none of them are being charged with a terrorism-related offense," Graham said.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she was concerned that the watch list is unreliable, citing a Justice Department report that found that 35 percent of the names were listed based on outdated information or material unrelated to terrorism.
Kelly sought to allay their fears. "The watch list is accessed a billion times a year and the error rate is probably as low as on any large list," he said.
"I know we disagree on this. It's a reasonable position to take and there is the ability to contest if you are on the list," he said. "If there are problems with the list, let's fix the list."
King said it was essential for people's trust in government to plug the terror gap in gun laws.
"If we find out that [an] Islamic terrorist . . . such as we saw on Saturday night . . . has gone out and bought weapons and carries out a massacre," King said, "we would say, 'How did we allow this to happen?' "