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NRA fail: More than 2,000 people on terror watch list have legally purchased guns in the last 10 years

The government has no authority to block firearm sales to terror suspects and the NRA wants to keep it that way


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Sophia Tesfaye
November 18, 2015 8:30PM (UTC)

Well, wouldn't you know it? "Membership in a terrorist organization does not prohibit a person from possessing firearms or explosives under current federal law," according to the Government Accountability Office and now a report from the federal agency finds that over 2,000 individuals on the FBI's terrorist watch list have indeed successfully and legally purchased a firearm from 2004 to 2014.

The Washington Post highlighted the findings of the GAO's March report in light of Friday's terror attacks in Paris:

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 percent of the time — they succeeded. There are about 700,000 people on the watch-list — a point that civil libertarians have made to underscore that many on the list may be family members or acquaintances of people with potential terrorist connections.

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Not a single gun buyer on the terror watch list was turned away because they posed a threat to America as a suspected terrorist. Instead, reasons for their rejections included “felony conviction, under indictment, adjudicated mental health, misdemeanor crime of domestic violence conviction, fugitive from justice and controlled substance abuse,” according to the GAO. In fact, in 2013 and 2014, the number of successful gun buyers  from the terror watch list rose to 94 percent — with 455 suspects purchasing firearms and just 30 being denied.

Of course, the NRA has forcefully opposed any legislation to close this loophole since 2007, citing "a concern that the FBI might watchlist a person as a 'suspected terrorist' on dubious grounds." Granted, 700,000 does appear to be a rather inflated amount of suspected terrorists living among us, but as the Post notes, even a full 71 percent of NRA members support prohibiting people on the terror watchlist from buying guns.

The federal government currently has no authority to block firearm sales to international or domestic terror suspects but according to the gun control group Everytown USA, nearly all terrorism-related incidents in the U.S. have involved guns.

The Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act, a bipartisan bill cosponsored by California Senator Dianne Feinstein and New York Rep. Peter King, looks to be a nonstarter in Congress as a majority of Republicans oppose the law originally proposed by the Bush administration in 2007.

“The National Rifle Association is strongly opposed to it and the fact is we have only a handful of Republican co-sponsors," King told the New York Daily News on Tuesday. “I think that right now it’d be tough to get through,” Kind said in the aftermath of Friday's terror attacks. "It’s not going to move right now ... [there’s] just too much opposition.”

In 2011, American-born senior al Qaeda operative, Adam Gadahn, released a video message rallying Muslims in the West to fight with everything at their disposal.

"And in the West you've got a lot at your disposal. Let's take a look at America for example," Gadahn said. "America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle without a background check and, most likely, without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?”

Father of Shooting Victim Calls Out NRA


Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's Deputy Politics Editor and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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