More than 40 terror suspects were able to buy firearms in the United States last year because background checks showed they had no felony convictions and weren’t illegal immigrants, according to a government report released Tuesday.
Gun control advocates cited the Government Accountability Office’s study, “Gun Control and Terrorism,” as evidence that stricter laws are needed to prevent terror suspects from buying firearms. The GAO said the FBI could do a better job overseeing checks involving terror suspects.
The report indicated that from Feb. 3 through June 20 last year, 35 known or suspected terrorists purchased guns in the United States. From July 1 to Oct. 31 last year, 12 more were allowed to buy firearms.
NRA opposes changes in law
FBI Director Robert Mueller told a House subcommittee Tuesday that perhaps the law could be altered.
“We ought to look what can be done to perhaps modify the law to limit that person’s access to a weapon,” Mueller said during testimony before the House Appropriations Committee’s Science, State, Justice and Commerce panel, which was holding a hearing on the FBI’s fiscal year 2006 budget.
But the National Rifle Association says the law is protecting Americans from terrorists while allowing citizens the freedom to own guns. Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s chief executive, said under current law, if the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System gets a hit that someone applying for a gun permit is on a terror watch list, the government official who put that person on the list — along with other counterterrorism personnel — is notified.
“They are specifically asked whether there’s a good reason to deny this person buying a firearm,” LaPierre told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday. “If there is, the person is denied. If there is not, the person is not denied.”
Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., who requested the GAO study along with Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., on Tuesday sent a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales asking him why the Justice Department let people listed in the FBI’s Violent Gang and Terrorist Organization File buy weapons.
“Common sense would dictate that we shouldn’t,” Lautenberg wrote.
GAO: Procedures need to be clarified
Justice Department spokesman Kevin Madden said that in light of the GAO report, the department has asked the FBI to report on the feasibility of having the bureau process all background checks related to suspected terrorists. Currently, the checks are done by designated state and local criminal justice agencies as well as the FBI.
The GAO recommended that the attorney general clarify procedures to ensure that information from gun purchase background checks is shared with counterterrorism officials and that the FBI should monitor such checks more frequently or oversee all checks related to terror suspects.
Following the report’s release, Lautenberg introduced a measure that would require the Justice Department to keep records of gun purchase transactions for 10 years. Last year, Congress passed a measure that requires the government to destroy such records within 24 hours.
LaPierre was solidly against Lautenberg’s bill, saying that if a person is cleared as a law-abiding citizen, “your name should not be retained in Washington by the federal government.”
Peter Hamm, spokesman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said current policies “benefit terrorists and benefit criminals.”
“For the last four years, the Bush White House and Republican leaders in Congress have been pursuing gun policies that are on the wish list of the National Rifle Association despite repeated warnings from law enforcement leaders,” Hamm said.