May 5th, 2010
02:50 PM ET

Security Brief: Terror Watch List folks who seek guns get approved, GAO says

Suspects on the government's Terror Watch List attempted to buy firearms or explosives 1,228 times in the past six years and won government approval in the vast majority of cases, according to a government report.

In 1,119 cases - 91 percent of all the requests - the government granted approval for the persons to proceed with the purchase, according to the General Accountability Office.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-New Jersey, disclosed the updated figures Wednesday at a hearing on the so-called "Terror Gap," the name given to the ability of people on the watch list to buy weapons. "This loophole in our gun laws defies common sense and is effectively hanging out a welcome sign for terrorists to arm themselves," Sen. Lautenberg testified.

The Senate hearing on terrorists and guns was scheduled long before this past weekend's failed attempt to detonate a car bomb in New York's Times Square. But the timing added to the sense of urgency. Congress will appear to have "blood on our hands" if a person carries out an attack with weapons purchased while he or she was on the watch list, said Rep. Peter King, R-New York, a sponsor of the bill.

But critics of the proposal say the bill may trample on rights of law-abiding Americans who have become entangled in the lengthy Terror Watch List.

The watch list consists of approximately 400,000 people, most of whom are not U.S. citizens, the director of the Terrorist Screening Center testified in December.

There have been numerous cases in which Americans with no known ties to terrorism have been placed on the list, most notably the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

"The evidence used to compile the watch list is often fragmentary and can be of varying degrees of credibility," Collins said. "It is not, in other words, the equivalent of a criminal history report."

One government report concluded about 35 percent of the people on the list were there "based on outdated information or material unrelated to terrorism," Collins said.

The "Terror Gap" bill would give the Attorney General the discretion to deny the transfer of a firearm when a background check reveals the purchaser is a known or suspected terrorist, and the Attorney General believes the person may use the weapon in connection with terrorism. The government would be allowed to approve of the sale if canceling it would tip off the suspect.

The bill also includes safeguards allowing people to appeal a denial, supporters say.

Guns have been used in two terrorist attacks in the United States in the past year: the Nov. 5, 2009, shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, in which a gunman killed 13 people and wounded 30 and on June 1, 2009, when a gunman killed one soldier and wounded another at a military recruiting office in Arkansas.

It is unclear whether the bill would have kept Faisal Shahzad, the suspect in the Times Square bombing attempt, from buying a weapon. Shahzad, who appears to have no criminal history, legally purchased a .9 mm gun, authorities say. The gun was found in a car that he drove to JFK Airport in a get-away attempt Monday evening, they say.

soundoff (48 Responses)
  1. Peter

    On its face the bill makes sense. I, like all law abiding gun owners, have no desire to see terrorists, garden variety criminals or mentally unstable people obtain guns. I am all for background checks. However, it is awfully hard to take at face value any purportedly "reasonable" gun control bill put forth or supported by Senator Lautenberg, Mayor Bloomberg or others of their ilk, The reason is, quite simply, that they are outright liars lacking in any credibility on gun issues. They do not care one whit about the Second Amendment rights of law abiding citizens and in fact do all in their power to stop ALL citizens, law abiding or otherwise, from obtaining firearms.

    The is abundantly clear from the draconian, Orwellian gun laws in place in NY City and New Jersey. In NYC, a person must fill out forms with trick questions, go down to 1 Police Plaza for multiple interviews, and wait an undetermined period of time - usually close to 1 year - for the examining officers to decide - in their discretion - whether to issue a permit. Similarly, in NJ, a citizen seeing to purchase a handgun must apply at a local police station (often only open 2 hours a week to accept applications) wait 6 months or more to obtain a firearms ID card and the obtain separate permits, which expire in 90 days, for each handgun, for a grand total of 3 background checks (including the federal check when the gun is purchased).

    This must STOP! Senator Lautenberg, Mayor Bloomberg, Senator Schumer, if you really desire to enhance public safety and obtain the cooperation of law abiding gun owners in passing truly sensible gun legilsation, stop proposing useless, unduly restrictive "gun control" laws that have the effect of curtailing or eliminating our consitutional rights. Maybe then we will listen to what you have to say.

    May 5, 2010 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Janet

    Yeah, and the TSA confiscated my emeryboard and pulled the young mom in line after me with a toddler and a baby over to look in her bag containing her breast pump.........It's obvious we are focusing in th right direction. The government is full of dim wits and brain dead morons....sorry, that was redundant.

    May 5, 2010 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Dixiesam

    So sad that so many uneducated in this country do not understand what the word ILLEGAL means.

    May 5, 2010 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Bill Roach

    "Terrorist Watchlist " . The Justice Department did a critical review of the list and its acurracy in 2008. it is very flawed.

    The ACLU also has a few facts about the list that should be consider before using it as a source. (see link) http://www.aclu.org/technology-and-liberty/terrorist-watch-list-hits-one-million-names.
    How many of the 1228 U.S citizens on the watchlist were even justifiably "labeled ".
    I would like to see an alphabetical posting of the list to see how many of my Family.friends and neighbors are "listed Terrorists ".
    Anyone using this list as a source for the kind of reporting being done above have a problem with creditability

    May 6, 2010 at 12:16 am | Report abuse |
  5. rpb

    G.I.G.O. Garbage In Garbage Out, it wasn't too long ago that all Veterans, because of some government supported think tank, were being eyeballed as potential terrorists. And I distinctly remember the head of Home Land Security being called on the carpet by the American Legion. How can you trust THE LIST. Fix the list and then we will think about it, don't shove another FEEL GOOD PROGRAM down our throats which is dependent on a program that is broken.

    May 6, 2010 at 10:39 am | Report abuse |
  6. Robert H. Osthimer

    I would hope common sense and judgement would prevail in denying anyone on the no fly list the ability to purchase any kind of gun (including rifles and assault weapons). God bless the USA!

    May 6, 2010 at 11:08 am | Report abuse |
  7. Republicans is smart in the head area

    It's utterly unbelievable that anyone would support the rights of terrorists to obtain weapons, and yet there they are – Lindsey Graham and our friend Peter. I agree that the list should be heavily scrutinized but do you really think that every one of the 1,119 people on the list who obtained firearms are honest citizens on the list by mistake?

    May 6, 2010 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
  8. NRA Member

    Don't take guns out of the hands of law abiding citizens. An armed man is a citizen, an unarmed man is a subject.

    May 6, 2010 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
  9. inforodeo

    There were a lot of things missing in this article that make me wonder how realistic this attack on gun ownership is.

    I am curious:

    – did the times square bombing suspect have a gun on him, or was his method of terror the SUV bomb he left (and if so, why aren't they freaking out about people on the watch list buying suvs, cheap plastic alarm clocks, fertilizer, etc?)
    – of these thousands of attempted and successful gun purchases by people on the terror watch list, how many of the suspects turned out to be actual terrorists? That watch list is famous for having 3 year old kids, elderly grandmothers and even some politicians on it ... I would suspect that a lot of these persons the article wants us to think are dangerous really were not.
    – the usual point does need to be brought up here: bad guys are going to get guns regardless. Look at mexico! Their folks are running around with all sorts of weapons (fully automatic, grenades, etc) that could NOT have been purchased by the average American (yet these very same politicians are claiming that Americans bought them from gun stores here and smuggled them in ...) ... we already have a ton of laws preventing this and that and all they've done is made it harder for law-abiding citizens to do things.
    – guns aren't the problem. idiots and villains are the problem. anyone notice the recent news ... knife attacks in a department store, knife attacks in a subway ... and how many of these terrorists committed their acts of terror with guns? shoe bomber, box-cutter hijackers, fertilizer bombs ... a quick glance at the past 30 years of news headlines shows pretty quickly that firearms are probably the LEAST used item in terrorist attacks. Politicians and anti-2nd amendment lobbyists need to quit wasting our time and money going after firearms and instead find ways to actually stop these folks from coming into our country. Perhaps they could monitor people who travel to and from "terrorist hot spots", or persons who have close family (like parents?) or friends who are known terrorists – OH WAIT! Then we'd have to put Rahm Emmanuel and other top officials (our President?) on the watch list ...

    hmmm ...

    May 6, 2010 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Peter Barclay

    This is basically rediculous. A watch list is to watch people. They should just note the individual purchased a gun. If a person is a terrorist, they will not be stopped by not being able to buy a gun legally. It will however, only stop a honest individual. In which case the only thing a ban would do would be to violate their rights.

    May 6, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Stan Grodin

    curious to know, what category of US citizens sould be able to buy guns according to Mayor Bloomberg ? He spends millions of his own money annually to get rid of all guns. He thinks the 2nd amendment no longer applies to any U.S. citizens. So if he has something to say about the subject of restricting anyone from buying a gun, his motives are highly suspect.

    As far as using the "watch list" or "do not fly" list to restrict anyone from buying a gun, someone would need to assure the accuracy of such lists. Highly doubtful that this could be accomplished.

    Any new laws restricting the purchase of a gun by any U.S citizen is an attempt by gun control fanatics to ban private gun ownership (but not theirs)

    May 6, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Bill Roach

    One more thought on the watchlist . It has over 1,000,000 people on it . There are about 307,000,000 people in the the United State . That means 1 in 307 US Citizens are on the list . On average, How many neighbors within a square mile of me are on the list . Am I on the list.

    May 6, 2010 at 8:03 pm | Report abuse |
  13. AGuest9

    So sad that there is so much made of this watch list, but the southern border is WIDE OPEN, allowing hundreds or thousands to sneak in every day, killing innocent homeowners and police officers. What a disgrace...

    May 6, 2010 at 11:23 pm | Report abuse |
  14. John N Florida

    If the 'watch list' were valid, the exclusions might be. GIGO, as mentioned above. You can't deny rights based on a garbage dump.

    May 7, 2010 at 9:44 am | Report abuse |
  15. Ben Franklin

    We have been lucky that the incompetence of the terrorist has out weighted the incompetence of the FED. We cant count on that to last forever.

    May 7, 2010 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
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