Terrorists' right to bear arms

How the pro-gun lobby has helped terrorist suspects inside the U.S. get their hands on assault rifles.

By Mark Follman
Published March 8, 2005 10:08PM (EST)

Remember when Congress mandated last year that records of gun sales had to be destroyed within 24 hours after purchase? It was a gift to pro-gun hardliners, who riddled the Bush campaign during 2004 with threats regarding ownership and privacy rights. Apparently it was also a gift to potential terrorists who may be lurking inside the United States: Thanks at least in part to the pro-gun lobby's influence in Washington, dozens of terrorist suspects on federal watch lists got legal approval in 2004 to purchase weapons. From the New York Times today, on a new report out from the Government Accountability Office:

"F.B.I. officials maintain that they are hamstrung by laws and policies restricting the use of gun-buying records because of concerns over the privacy rights of gun owners.

"At least 44 times from February 2004 to June, people whom the F.B.I. regards as known or suspected members of terrorist groups sought permission to buy or carry a gun, the investigation found. In all but nine cases, the F.B.I. or state authorities who handled the requests allowed the applications to proceed because a check of the would-be buyer found no automatic disqualification like being a felon, an illegal immigrant or someone deemed 'mentally defective,' the report found."

"In the four months after the formal study ended, the authorities received an additional 14 gun applications from terror suspects, and all but 2 of those were cleared to proceed, the investigation found. In all, officials approved 47 of 58 gun applications from terror suspects over a nine-month period last year, it found."

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-NJ, isn't pleased with the tradeoff regarding U.S. national security. "Destroying these records in 24 hours is senseless and will only help terrorists cover their tracks," Lautenberg said Monday, according to the Times. "It's an absurd policy," he said, adding that it can be credited to the Bush administration's "twisted allegiances" to the National Rifle Association.

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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