247 on terror watch list bought guns

Hundreds of people on the FBI's Terrorist Watch List were cleared to purchase firearms in 2010, prompting at least one lawmaker and Capitol Hill gun-reformer to reiterate a call for tougher rules.

Of the 272 individuals on the Terrorist Watch List who attempted to buy firearms last year, 247 were allowed to make the purchase, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported Wednesday.

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The findings were not overlooked by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who slammed the current law as too lenient and urged Congress to close what gun reformers call the "terror gap."

"It defies common sense that people on the terror watch list continue to be cleared to buy weapons legally in the United States,” Lautenberg, who requested the GAO report, said Thursday in a statement. "This is a homeland-security issue, not a gun issue, and there's no reason we shouldn't be able to stop a terrorist from buying a dangerous weapon in the United States."

Under current law, licensed gun dealers must perform background checks on all potential buyers to screen for those ineligible to possess firearms, including felons, illegal immigrants, spousal abusers and the severely mentally ill.

The list of ineligibles, however, does not include 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."

The 25 individuals on the terrorist list who were denied approval last year were disqualified for reasons that included felony conviction and domestic violence.

"There is no basis to automatically prohibit a person from possessing firearms or explosives because they appear on the terrorist watch list," the GAO reported. 

In January, Lautenberg introduced legislation empowering state attorneys general to deny gun sales to those on the Terrorist Watch List if state officials suspect they would use the weapons for terrorist attacks.
 
The legislation is co-sponsored by Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin (Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Carl Levin (Mich.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Robert Menendez (N.J.), Jack Reed (R.I.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Barbara Boxer (Calif.).

The National Rifle Association did not immediately return a request for comment Thursday, but the nation's largest gun lobby has opposed past efforts to disqualify those on the government's terrorist list from buying firearms. The group argues that such a rule would violate the Second Amendment rights of those put on the list by mistake.