By Mike Lillis - 03/06/13 07:11 PM EST
A prominent Senate Democrat introduced legislation this week designed to keep firearms out of the hands of suspected terrorists living in the United States.
Sponsored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), the proposal would bar those on the government's terrorist watch list from buying guns – a designation that currently doesn't disqualify them.
"Even if every gun sale is subjected to a background check, terrorists will still be able to buy guns legally in America unless we pass my bill to close the 'Terror Gap,'" Lautenberg said Wednesday in a statement.
"From attacks on Ft. Hood to Mumbai, terror plots carried out using guns and readily available explosives are more and more common and we must act to stop terrorists from getting these weapons and killing Americans.”
Current federal law requires licensed firearms dealers to perform background checks on potential gun buyers to weed out those prohibited from buying or owning guns, including felons, fugitives, spousal abusers, illegal immigrants and the severely mentally ill. But those on the FBI's terrorist watch list — while barred from air travel — may purchase guns legally.
Launched in 2003 in response to the 9/11 attacks, the FBI watch list compiles the names of those "known or reasonably suspected of being involved in terrorist activity."
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has reported that, of the 272 people on the terrorist watch list who attempted to buy firearms in 2010, 247 were allowed to make the purchase. The 25 denials were blocked because they fell into one of the prohibited categories.
Between 2004-2010, more than 1,300 people on the terrorist watch list were cleared to buy weapons, the GAO found.
Opponents of past efforts to close the so-called "terror gap," including the National Rifle Association, have argued that the FBI's list is not 100 percent accurate. As a result, critics say, proposals like Lautenberg's would infringe on the Second Amendment rights of those put on the list by mistake.
Lautenberg's proposal has been endorsed by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Mo Cowan (D-Mass.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Angus King (I-Maine).
The proposal has bipartisan support in the House, where GOP Rep. Pete King (N.Y.) introduced a similar proposal earlier this year.