Judiciary chairman: Al Qaeda threat no reason to change gun laws

A top Republican has rejected the notion that Congress should re-examine the nation's gun laws after al Qaeda urged Muslims to attack America by exploiting loose firearm rules.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said tightening gun laws to address the threat would be to surrender to terrorists at the expense of Americans' rights.

“We’ve seen time and again that terrorists will use anything, including our own rights and freedoms, to plot attacks against innocent Americans,” Smith said in an email. “But simply because terrorists abuse our liberties doesn’t mean that we should limit the rights of law-abiding Americans. On the contrary, to limit our rights is to give in to terrorists and the fear they try to spread.”

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Earlier in the month, Adam Gadahn, an American-born spokesman for al Qaeda, released a video calling on Muslims to commit violent jihad against America by taking advantage of the so-called “gun-show loophole” – a distinction in federal law that allows unlicensed gun sellers to peddle weapons without performing background checks on prospective buyers the way licensed dealers are required to do.

“America is absolutely awash with easily attainable firearms,” Gadahn said. “You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle without a background check and, most likely, without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?”

The video refueled a long-standing push from gun reformers for Congress to take additional precautions to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists and other violent criminals.

Current law bars certain people from buying guns, including felons, illegal immigrants, spousal abusers and the severely mentally ill. But ineligibility does not extend to those on the FBI's terrorist watch list, which houses data on people “known or appropriately suspected to be or have been engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism.”

In March, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that almost 250 people on the terror watch list were cleared to purchase firearms last year.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said the “chilling” new video should be a wake-up call for lawmakers on Capitol Hill to expand the list of ineligibles.

“Terror plots using readily-available guns and explosives are becoming more common and can easily be carried out within the United States,” Lautenberg said in a statement. “Al Qaeda has figured this out, when will the American gun lobby?”

Gun-reform advocates are also urging legislation to require all gun sellers – not only licensed dealers – to perform background checks on potential buyers.

Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) said Congress would have to pass both bills if lawmakers hope to be effective in keeping terrorists from buying weapons.

“To me, they go hand in hand,” Quigley told The Hill.

In May, Quigley sponsored legislation in the Judiciary Committee that would block those on the terror list from buying weapons. It was shot down 21 to 11, along strict party lines.

Republicans who spoke out against the proposal – including Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (Wis.) and Louie Gohmert (Texas) – argued that restricting sales to people on the watch list would infringe upon the Second Amendment rights of those on the list by mistake. Sensenbrenner also argued that denying guns to suspected terrorists would let them know they were being watched.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG), an advocacy group headed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, sent a letter this month to President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) saying the al Qaeda video is evidence the nation's gun laws are too lax.

“This video dramatically underscores the fact that our weak gun laws are not just a threat to public safety,” MAIG wrote, “they are a threat to our national security.”

Smith disagrees. The Texas Republican said policymakers should focus their anti-terror efforts on using “strong investigative tools to track down terrorists before they strike.”