Sen. Frank Lautenberg 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.
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."
The report also points to the Fort Hood massacre, the botched Times Square bombing, and the murder of an Army recruiter in Little Rock, Arkansas, in June 2009, as evidence similar, albeit, smaller terrorist attacks and attempts in the United States have leveraged small arms and explosives rather than the previous jihadist modus operandi of large-scale, spectacular attacks like 9-11.
To close what he calls the "Terror Gap," Lautenberg has introduced (S. 1317), "Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2009 " (.pdf). The legislation, which has 11 co-sponsors, would give discretionary authority to the attorney general to deny a gun or explosive purchase if he determines the buyer is a known or a suspected terrorist and holds a reasonable belief that the weapon could be used to carry out a terrorist attack.
Under the legislation, prospective gun or explosive buyers denied a gun or a high explosive could appeal the attorney general's decision in federal district court within 60 days of the determination. The legislation has not made it out of the Judiciary Committee
"The shootings at Ft. Hood in November 2009, in Little Rock, Arkansas in June 2009 and the attempted bombing in Times Square in May 2010...are part of mounting evidence that it is only a matter of time until a Mumbai-style attack takes place in the U.S.," says the report. "Closing the gaps in U.S. law enabling terrorists to purchase the guns and explosives they need to carry out such an attack must a national security priority. The continued failure to treat it as such puts the American public at great risk."
♦ Snip of report cover, "Firearms, Explosives and Terrorists"