By Jordy Yager - 04/29/13 07:03 PM EDT
Stronger gun control laws would have prevented the accused Boston bombers from getting firearms and could prevent future terror attacks, according to a New York Democratic lawmaker.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney said on Monday that tighter background checks and increased penalties for straw purchasers would help thwart terrorism, citing Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing, who waged a late-night firefight with police and are accused of shooting and killing an MIT security guard.
After Russian security concerns prompted the FBI to interview Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2011, the Chechen-born U.S. resident was placed on the National Counterterrorism Center’s Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment list, known as TIDE.
Maloney argued that if all gun sales required background checks, Tamerlan Tsarnaev would have been flagged as being on the watchlist and would not have been allowed to purchase his guns.
“Tamerlan, as we know, was on the terrorist watch list,” said Maloney. “So, we know a gun check would stop him, if there was a background check. But as it stands now, Tamerlan ... or the next terrorist can go to any gun show and buy a 100-round magazine. They can buy all the assault weapons they want, no questions asked.”
It remains unclear where and how the Tsarnaev brothers obtained the guns used in the shootout with police just outside of Boston. Reports last week said that neither brother held a license to own firearms in Massachusetts.
Several Democrats in Congress have pushed to close the so-called “terror loophole” — a gap in the current gun background check system that allows people on a terror watchlist to legally purchase guns in the United States because it does not raise red flags in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) asked Attorney General Eric Holder about the issue at an oversight hearing earlier this month.
“It's always shocking to me that those on the terrorist watch list did not raise a flag in the NICS system,” said Lowey. “There are mistakes on the terrorist watch list, but if they're being stopped and held up for an hour or so because you're on a terrorist watch list then you can go off and just buy a gun?”
Holder said he shared Lowey’s concerns and said he was in the process of reviewing — at the request of President Obama — the categories of people included in the government’s database. He said there are some in law enforcement who do not support linking the NICS database with the terror watch list.
A bill requiring background checks on all purchases, except those between family members and close acquaintances, failed to pass the Senate earlier this month, striking a significant blow to the president and Democrats, who have pushed hard for tighter gun control measures in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting in Connecticut.
A separate measure that garnered more Republican support would have increased penalties on straw purchasers — people who buy guns for those not legally allowed to purchase them. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) postponed a vote on that gun control bill after a number of amendments, including the background check proposal, failed to muster support.
Maloney is a strong advocate of the straw-purchasers measure and said Monday that it would also help prevent terrorists from getting guns as easily.
“Let's stop this and raise the penalties on straw purchasers so the bad guys that are buying guns for other bad guys know that they're going to get more than a slap on the wrist and be in the slammer,” she said.
“This in no way infringes on the right of law-abiding Americans to have guns for self-protection, to go hunting, or whatever purpose. But for the terrorist, for the bad guys, let's pass sensible gun safety legislation, and all of us need to turn up the heat on this: the president, legislators, because it's not poll numbers, it's not politics, it's lives.”
Maloney said she remains confident that gun control legislation will eventually be passed by Congress, despite facing significant roadblocks in the Senate and likely near certain defeat in the GOP-controlled House.
“It will pass eventually, because it is the right thing to do, and it will protect American lives,” she said. “It's part of homeland security, and we should bring it back in the House and in the Senate and pass these reforms that law enforcement is asking for.”
Other Democrats are also optimistic that the Senate will take the issue back up later in the year.