NEWS

Senator's Report Calls for Closing the "Terror Gap"

By Matthew Harwood

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) continues his fight to empower the attorney general with the ability to deny suspected terrorists the ability to purchase firearms and explosives to help prevent a commando-style terrorist attack against the United States.

On Thursday, Lautenberg's office released a 14-page report, "Firearms, Explosives, and Terrorists: A Looming Threat, A Major U.S. Vulnerability" (.pdf), describing the threat of easily available small arms and explosives falling into the hands of terrorists.

"Current gun laws in the United States only increase the risk of a commando-style attack in the United States," says a report prepared by Lautenberg's office and released last Thursday. "First, under current law, known or suspected terrorists are not prohibited from purchasing guns and explosives in the United States. Second, firearms and explosives akin to the types used in commando-style attacks abroad are readily available."

(For previous coverage of Lautenberg's efforts, see "Close 'Terror Gun Gap,' Says NYC Mayor Bloomberg and Police Chief Kelly" from May 2010.)

The report notes that the ten terrorists who besieged Mumbai, killing approximately 170 people and injuring hundreds more, were armed with AK-47 machine guns, 9mm pistols, grenades, and improvised explosive devices including the high explosive, RDX. Currently, no law forbids a known or suspected terrorist from purchasing a fully automatic AK-47 or high explosives, although both require either federal registration or licensing.

"Right now," the report warns, "a known or suspected terrorist can walk into a gun store and purchase a semi-automatic assault rifle, even if their background check reveals that they are on a government terrorist watch list."

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) confirmed that in May. According to the report, 91 percent of individuals, who appeared on the government's terrorist watchlist, were allowed to purchase firearms or explosives in between Feb. 2004 and Feb. 2010. The GAO reported that  "1,116... of these transactions were allowed to proceed because no prohibiting information was found--such as felony convictions, illegal immigrant status, or other disqualifying factors--and 109 of the transactions were denied."

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