updated 6/22/2009 6:26:41 PM ET 2009-06-22T22:26:41

More than 800 gun purchases were approved after background checks in the last five years even though the buyers' names were on the government's terrorist watch list, investigators said Monday.

Being on the watch list is not among the nine factors, such as a felony conviction, that disqualify someone from buying a gun under federal law. More than 900 background checks between February 2004 and February 2009 turned up names on the watch list, and all but 98 were allowed to go through.

The watch list — maintained by the FBI and used by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies — is meant to identify known or suspected terrorists. However, the list has drawn criticism over the years for mistakes that have led to questioning and searches of innocent people.

The Government Accountability Office, the watchdog arm of Congress, provided the updated statistics in a new report. The GAO issued a report on the watch-list loophole in 2005, but no changes have been made to the law.

"The current law simply defies common sense," Sen. Frank Lautenberg said in a statement Monday.

Lautenberg, D-N.J., has been calling for years to close the "terror gap" in the gun law and introduced legislation Monday to address this concern. "Known and suspected terrorists are exploiting a major loophole in our law, threatening our families and our communities," he said.

In 2007, the Justice Department supported legislation that would address the gap, but Congress did not act on it.

The Justice Department had no immediate comment Monday on the GAO findings.

The top lobbyist for the National Rifle Association said the terrorist watch list has names of people who should not be on the list.

"Law-abiding Americans should not be treated like terrorists," the NRA's Chris Cox said. "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."

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