Sen. Frank Lautenberg has reissued his call to the U.S. government to close a significant loophole in gun-control legislation that allows terror suspects to buy weapons.
Lautenberg’s latest campaign against the loophole came in response to government officials – notably Dennis C. Blair, director of National Intelligence – confirming the likelihood of an Al Qaeda attack on U.S. soil in the coming months.
Last month, the senator asked the Department of Justice if its investigation into Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad showed that he appeared on terror watch lists. Muhammad, who allegedly shot and killed a U.S. soldier and wounded another outside a military recruiting center in Little Rock, Ark., in June, had previously been investigated by the FBI and recently claimed to be affiliated with Al Qaeda. As of last Friday, Lautenberg had not received an answer.
On May 21, before the June 1 shooting, the U.S. Government Accountability Office had issued a report to Lautenberg, Rep. John Conyers Jr., chair of the House Committee on the Judiciary, and Rep. Robert C. Scott, chair of the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. According to the report, 963 cases of a known or suspected terrorist’s attempting to buy a gun were reported between February 2004 and February 2009. In 865 of those cases, or 90 percent, the suspect received clearance for the purchase. One application that was approved involved purchasing explosives.
“It is outrageous that terrorists are able to purchase guns in the United States,” Lautenberg said in a statement to The Jewish Standard last week. “Barring terrorists from buying guns is a common sense way to stay one step ahead of those who are plotting to harm us.”
The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act gives the Federal Bureau of Investigation and designated state and local criminal justice agencies use of the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System to research people buying handguns. The system checks a person’s criminal background only, however, and does not check if the applicant appears on a terrorist watch list.
According to last year’s GAO report, under Department of Justice guidelines, firearms and explosives applications are not automatically disallowed if the applicant appears on the terror watch list. To be disqualified the applicant must have a felony conviction, illegal immigration status, or other accompanying criminal record.
Furthermore, the Department of Justice has recommended legislation that would allow the attorney general discretion to deny applicants who appear on terror watch lists but do not otherwise have the criminal background that would stop their applications.
In response to the GAO report, Lautenberg introduced the Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2009.
The bill would give the attorney general the authority to deny firearms or explosives licenses or permits to known or suspected terrorists when the attorney general has reason to believe such weapons may be used for terrorism. It also requires the attorney general to issue guidelines for how said discretionary authority will be used.
The bill, under discussion by the Senate’s Committee on the Judiciary, allows an applicant to challenge a denial.
“My legislation would give the attorney general authority to stop those sales,” Lautenberg said in his statement. “The attorney general has expressed support for my legislation and I am fighting in Washington to ensure the terror gap loophole is closed as quickly as possible.”