U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) today announced that he has reintroduced legislation to close a significant loophole in U.S. law, known as the "Terror Gap," that allows terrorists to legally obtain guns and explosives to carry out crimes against the United States. The legislation would, for the first time, give the federal government the ability to ensure that known or suspected terrorists can be denied the purchase of a firearm or explosives.
Under current federal law, being a known or suspected terrorist is not a disqualifying factor for buying guns and explosives. As a result, even if a background check reveals that a prospective purchaser is a known or suspected terrorist, the federal government is powerless to prevent the sale of a firearm or explosives to that individual unless they are a prohibited person under another disqualifying factor.
"Our gun laws have gaping holes that allow known and suspected terrorists to walk into a gun store and leave with legally purchased deadly weapons. 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. 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," Lautenberg said. "As Congress considers gun safety measures in the days and weeks ahead, closing this loophole is one common-sense reform that I will prioritize and work to pass in the Senate."
Lautenberg's bill, the "Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act" (S.34), would close the Terror Gap by providing the Attorney General with authority to stop the sale of guns or explosives when a background check reveals that the purchaser is a known or suspected terrorist and the Attorney General reasonably believes that the person may use a firearm or explosives in connection with terrorism.
In the 113th Congress, the bill is co-sponsored by Senators Richard Bluementhal (D-CT), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), William "Mo" Cowan (D-MA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Carl Levin (D-MI), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Jack Reed (D-RI), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Angus King (I-ME).
The bill has strong bipartisan support. The House companion version of the bill was introduced by U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-NY-02) and has 18 co-sponsors. In addition, the Administration of former President George W. Bush endorsed the legislation.
At Senator Lautenberg's request, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) tracked the number of times that a background check required for the purchase of a gun or explosive indicated the applicant was on the terror watch list. Between February 2004 and December 2010, there were a total of 1,321 times when an individual on the terror watch list was cleared to proceed with the purchase of a firearm or explosive.