Dems want to curb weapon sales to ter­ror­ists, but the NRA says that would in­con­ve­nience in­no­cent buy­ers

Wisconsin Gazette - - Front Page - Michael Biesecker and Alan Fram AP writ­ers

Peo­ple on the U.S. gov­ern­ment’s ter­ror­ist watch list of­ten can’t board com­mer­cial air­lin­ers, but they can walk into a gun store and legally buy pis­tols and pow­er­ful mil­i­tary-style ri­fles.

Fol­low­ing the Paris at­tacks, Democrats re­newed calls for Congress to pass leg­is­la­tion aimed at pre­vent­ing ter­ror­ists from buy­ing guns. Sim­i­lar bills — in­clud­ing a post-Sept. 11 mea­sure backed by the Jus­tice Depart­ment under Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush — have been stymied for years by the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion and its rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Congress.

Ac­cord­ing to a March anal­y­sis by the Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice, peo­ple on the FBI’s con­sol­i­dated ter­ror­ist watch­list suc­cess­fully passed the back­ground check re­quired to pur­chase firearms more than 90 per­cent of the time, with more than 2,043 ap­provals be­tween 2004 and 2014. The of­fice is an in­ves­tiga­tive branch of Congress.

The FBI is no­ti­fied when a back­ground check for the pur­chase of firearms or ex­plo­sives gen­er­ates a match with the watch­list and agents of­ten use that in­for­ma­tion to step up surveil­lance on ter­ror sus­pects. Under cur­rent fed­eral law, how­ever, as­so­ci­a­tion with a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion doesn’t pro­hibit a per­son from pos­sess­ing firearms or ex­plo­sives.

About 420,000 peo­ple are on the list ad­min­is­tered by the FBI’s Ter­ror­ist Screen­ing Cen­ter, though only about 2 per­cent of those are U.S. cit­i­zens or le­gal per­ma­nent res­i­dents legally able to buy guns.

The new Demo­cratic push, which is con­sid­ered un­likely to suc­ceed in the GOP-con­trolled Congress, is fo­cused on leg­is­la­tion by U.S. Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein, D-Calif., that would let the at­tor­ney gen­eral com­pile a list of known and sus­pected ter­ror­ists.

Fed­er­ally li­censed gun deal­ers would be barred from sell­ing firearms to them, just as they are al­ready pro­hib­ited from sales to peo­ple with felony con­vic­tions or se­ri­ous men­tal ill­nesses. The pro­posed leg­is­la­tion would not pre­vent trans­ac­tions that don’t in­volve li­censed deal­ers, such as those be­tween pri­vate in­di­vid­u­als at gun shows or many sales on­line, which don’t cur­rently in­volve back­ground checks.

Fe­in­stein in­tro­duced her bill in Fe­bru­ary, well be­fore the mass killings in Paris in­jected new life into ter­ror­ism and pub­lic safety as top-tier po­lit­i­cal is­sues.

Fe­in­stein’s bill echoes leg­is­la­tion the late U.S. Sen. Frank Laut­en­berg, D-N.J., pro­posed re­peat­edly over the past decade. U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., also has long pushed the same leg­is­la­tion.

Mean­while, Repub­li­cans took ad­van­tage of vot­ers’ newly aroused se­cu­rity con­cerns in late Novem­ber, when they eas­ily pushed leg­is­la­tion through the House pre­vent­ing Syr­ian and Iraqi refugees from en­ter­ing the United States un­til the ad­min­is­tra­tion tight­ens re­stric­tions on their en­try.

That is­sue put Democrats on the de­fen­sive. Forty-seven of them voted for the bill, ig­nor­ing a veto threat by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, who said the cur­rent screen­ing sys­tem is strong and accused Repub­li­cans of fan­ning fear among wor­ried vot­ers.

Democrats are hop­ing to turn the po­lit­i­cal ta­bles on Repub­li­cans by fo­cus­ing the de­bate in­stead on ter­ror­ists’ ac­cess to guns.

“I think this is a no-brainer,” said Fe­in­stein, a long­time gun con­trol sup­porter. “If you’re too dan­ger­ous to board a plane, you’re too dan­ger­ous to buy a gun.”

Congress has yet to vote on Fe­in­stein’s pro­posal.

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, R-Ky., has not said whether he would be open to al­low­ing a vote.

The GOP-run House has not held any votes on ma­jor gun con­trol mea­sures since the killings of 26 chil­dren and adults at Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary School in New­town, Con­necti­cut, in 2012.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., did not re­spond di­rectly when asked if he fa­vored bar­ring peo­ple on the watch list from buy­ing guns. He said, “We are just be­gin­ning this process of re­assess­ing all of our se­cu­rity stances.” The NRA op­poses Fe­in­stein’s bill. NRA spokes­woman Jen­nifer Baker pointed to past in­stances where in­no­cent peo­ple were added to the watch­list ei­ther in er­ror or as the re­sult of ten­u­ous ties to oth­ers in­volved in sus­pi­cious ac­tiv­i­ties. She said her group wants to en­sure Amer­i­cans wrongly on the list are af­forded their con­sti­tu­tional right.

Under cur­rent law, peo­ple can try per­suad­ing the Jus­tice Depart­ment to re­move their names from a ter­ror watch list or can file law­suits chal­leng­ing their in­clu­sion.

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