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Despite their listing on what is supposed to be one of the most sensitive monitoring system in the world, each of these people managed to pass the background tests required to purchase a firearm.
Why? Because even though those on the list are suspected of ties to groups that want to wage war on the United States, it is not illegal — under current law — for those on the terror list to buy weapons and the National Rifle Association wants to keep it that way.
This bothers Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, who wants to change the law to keep weapons out of the hands of suspected terrorists.
“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,” Lautenberg told the Associated Press.
But that isn’t easy because the terror watch list is a constantly-changing collection of some 450,000 names where names are added and removed every day.
Under current law, convicted felons and illegal immigrants cannot buy weapons and the terror watch list is a secret document of those suspected — not necessarily convicted — of crimes.
The list includes suspected members of al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations, terror financiers, terror recruiters and people who attended training camps. Most people never know whether they’re on it.
Lautenberg has joined with two dozen other members of Congress in urging the attorney general to have the authority to prevent someone on the terror watch list from buying a gun if it is believed that person will use it in a terrorist act. The Justice Department under both the Bush and Obama administrations supported effort.
According to records obtained by the AP, 1,453 people on the terror watch list have attempted to buy firearms or explosives between February 2004 and December 2010,. Of those, 90 percent of the people were allowed to go through with their purchases.
The National Rifle Association opposes any law that would give the attorney general the authority to deny someone on the watch list the ability to buy a firearm. NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said the watch list lacks integrity and includes law-abiding citizens who are mistaken as having ties to terrorists.
“We think it’s wrong to arbitrarily deny a law-abiding person a constitutional right,” he told the AP. The NRA does not think a political appointee, such as the attorney general, should have the discretionary authority to decide that someone on the watch list is so dangerous that he should not be allowed to buy a gun. Arulanandam said if a terrorist is legitimately on the watch list, that person should be arrested, prosecuted and punished.
President Barack Obama has steered clear of politically sensitive gun-control issues. But the Justice Department would support a bill that would help prevent terrorists from getting firearms.
“The department is committed to doing everything within its power to keep firearms out of the hands of persons who may intend to use those weapons to commit terrorist acts,” Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said. “To the extent Congress wishes to provide the department with additional tools that would improve the status quo, we remain committed to working with them to achieve that goal.”
Every time someone tries to buy a gun in the U.S., the background checks include the terror watch list. When there is a match, the information is shared with the FBI case agent who is leading the terrorism investigation, according to a counterterrorism official who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the process.
To deny all people on the watch list from purchasing a weapon would mean the government would have to tell someone he or she is on the list. A person who knows he is on a watch list could change his behavior or even his identity to avoid detection, the official said.
(This article includes information from The Associated Press)