Closing the "Terror Gap:" Preventing Terrorists from Accessing Guns
In June 2009, Sen. Lautenberg and Congressmen John Conyers (D-MI) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) released a new GAO report finding that, from February 2004 to February 2009, there were 963 cases in which a known or suspected terrorist attempted to buy a gun. In 90 percent of those cases – a total of 865 times – they were cleared to proceed with that purchase. One of those cases involved the purchase of explosives.
According to the report, which the lawmakers requested in July 2008, only 10 percent of the time were terrorist suspects denied weapons because of disqualifying factors, such as a felony conviction or illegal immigrant status. Being on the Terrorist Watch List is currently not a disqualifying factor for buying firearms.
In response to this report, Sen. Lautenberg has introduced legislation to close the “terror gap” in the nation’s gun laws by giving the Attorney General authority to stop the sale of guns or explosives to terrorists. Under current federal law, there is no legal way to stop someone on the Terrorist Watch List from buying guns and explosives.
Under the federal Brady Act, a licensed firearms dealer must request a background check through the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) before an unlicensed individual may purchase a weapon. However, even if a NICS check reveals that the prospective purchaser is a known or suspected terrorist, nothing in current law prevents that person from purchasing a gun unless he or she meets one of the other disqualifying factors, such as felony conviction, illegal status, or domestic violence convictions.
In January 2005, the GAO produced a report to Sens. Lautenberg and Biden (D-DE) that found that from February 3 to June 30, 2004, a total of 44 firearm purchase attempts were made by individuals designated as known or suspected terrorists by the federal government. In 35 cases, the FBI authorized the transactions to proceed because FBI field agents were unable to find any disqualifying information (such as felony convictions or illegal immigrant status) within the federally prescribed three business days.
Following the GAO report in March 2005, Sen. Lautenberg wrote letters to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller requesting recommendations on existing laws and Department of Justice (DOJ) regulations permitting terrorists to purchase guns and, in response to the Senator’s request, the DOJ created a department-wide working group that eventually produced a series of recommendations. That working group produced the legislative recommendations that Lautenberg introduced last night.
This week -- more than two years later -- DOJ recommended the introduction of the “Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2007.” The Administration’s recommendation came only following last week’s tragedy at Virginia Tech and the day before Director Mueller’s testimony in front of Sen. Lautenberg at a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the FBI’s 2008 budget.
Sen. Lautenberg’s measure – the “Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2009" – would:
Should this new measure become law, it would be the first change to the Brady Law since Sen. Lautenberg’s 1996 law that has kept more than 150,000 guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.