Thousands of US terror suspects have legally bought guns over last decade, survey reveals

Federal law prohibits felons, fugitives, drug addicts and domestic abusers from purchasing a firearm in the US - but not people on the FBI’s terrorist watch list

Christopher Ingraham
Tuesday 17 November 2015 19:27 GMT
Alberto Gonzales failed to block gun sales in 2007
Alberto Gonzales failed to block gun sales in 2007 (AP)

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More than 2,200 suspected terrorists bought guns legally under federal law from American arms dealers over a decade, a survey has revealed.

As gun laws become ever more stringent across the world, the right to own a gun in the US is coming under increasing scrutiny. “Membership in a terrorist organisation does not prohibit a person from possessing firearms or explosives under current federal law,” the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded in 2010.

The law prohibits felons, fugitives, drug addicts and domestic abusers from purchasing a firearm in the US. But people on the FBI’s consolidated terrorist watch list – typically placed there when there is “reasonable suspicion” that they are a known or suspected terrorist – can freely purchase handguns or assault-style rifles.

As the GAO found, a number of them do. Between 2004 and 2014, suspected terrorists attempted to purchase guns from American dealers at least 2,233 times. And in 2,043 of those cases – 91 per cent of the time – they succeeded.

There are about 700,000 people on the watchlist – a point that libertarians have made to underscore that many on the list may be family members or acquaintances of people with potential terrorist connections. That total number is a floor, since the 2011 and 2012 numbers include only partial data because of a programming error that the FBI subsequently fixed, according to the GAO. The annual number of attempted gun purchases by terror suspects has generally held steady since 2007 and may be declining.

Bills have been introduced in Congress in an attempt to do that, going as far back as 2007 at the behest of then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

A bipartisan bill submitted this year, the “Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2015” bill, would prevent several hundred gun purchases by suspected terrorists each year. It includes provisions to let people challenge a denial if they believe they were placed on the watchlist in error.

But these bills have rarely made it out of committee, in part due to opposition from the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its allies in Congress. The NRA objected to earlier versions of the bill, saying they were “aimed primarily at law-abiding American gun owners”.

© The Washington Post

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