The Right Wing

NRA and Gun Nuts Block Bill to Close Loophole Letting 2,000 People on FBI Terrorist Watchlist Buy Arms

They can't get on planes, but they can buy guns.

Photo Credit: gabriel12/

More than 2,000 people on the FBI’s terrorist watchlist have not been allowed to get on planes in the U.S. but have been able to buy guns, because the National Rifle Association and its allies in Congress have blocked legislation to close that loophole.

This revelation was reported by several large daily newspapers this week, prompting some of Congress’ more determined gun-control proponents to say the Paris attacks will push them once again to try to close the loophole.

“The GAO reported that 91 percent of all suspected terrorists who tried to buy guns in America walked away with the weapon they wanted over the time period, with just 190 rejected despite their ominous histories,” the Daily News reported, citing Congress' investigative staff. “In 2013-14, the number of successful buyers rose to 94 percent—with 455 suspects buying weapons and just 30 denied as allowed under current laws.”

The Washington Post reported that the Government Accountability Office has been tracking this issue and loophole for years, but that the gun lobby has prevented common-sense federal legislation to close it, claiming the FBI’s watchlist is overblown and cannot be trusted.

The Post said:

“Membership in a terrorist organization does not prohibit a person from possessing firearms or explosives under current federal law,” the Government Accountability Office concluded in 2010. The law prohibits felons, fugitives, drug addicts and domestic abusers from purchasing a firearm in the United States. But people on the FBI's consolidated Terrorist Watchlist — typically placed there when there is “reasonable suspicion” that they are a known or suspected terrorist — can freely purchase handguns or assault-style rifles.

Legislation to close this loophole was first proposed by George W. Bush’s administration in 2007 but has been blocked by the NRA’s allies in Congress, despite the ongoing mass shootings at schools, theaters and shopping malls during Obama’s two terms and his calls for gun-control legislation aimed at military-style arms.

The Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2015 was introduced last winter in the House by New York Rep. Peter T. King, a Republican, and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, to close the loophole. But it has languished and gone nowhere — not even prompting committee hearings.

“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 Daily News.

However, following last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris, New York’s Charles Schumer and California’s Feinstein — longtime gun-control advocates in the Senate — said they would push for a version of the bill to be considered in that chamber.

“It is hard to believe that anyone could defend that someone on the terrorist watchlist should get a gun, no questions asked,” Schumer said. “I can’t believe that our Republican colleagues would block this now.”

Actually, Schumer probably knows that is exactly what they will do. When the Daily News contacted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), he said he was unaware of the bill — which is a perfect excuse to take no action, the NRA’s longtime legislative strategy.

Meanwhile, King told the Daily News that there’s “just too much opposition” from pro-gun House Republicans. Moreover, the bill is backed by the White House, which stiffens GOP opposition.

There are roughly 700,000 names on the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Database, better known as the terrorist watchlist. It includes both domestic and international suspects identified through intelligence and law enforcement investigations.

Not a single gun buyer on the list was turned away because he posed a threat to the American populace as a potential terrorist, the newspapers reported. Instead, the reasons for rejection were having a “felony conviction, [being] under indictment, [having an] adjudicated mental health [record], misdemeanor crime of domestic violence conviction, [being a] fugitive from justice and controlled substance abuse,” the GAO report summary said.

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Steven Rosenfeld is a senior writing fellow of the Independent Media Institute, where he covers national political issues. He is the author of several books on elections, most recently Democracy Betrayed: How Superdelegates, Redistricting, Party Insiders, and the Electoral College Rigged the 2016 Election (March 2018, Hot Books).