During the Sunday news shows on November 22, Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, and John Kasich were all challenged by hosts over the fact that under current federal law, people who are on the FBI's consolidated terror watch list are not legally prohibited from buying guns. The questions over what is known as the “terror gap” followed widespread media discussion of legislation in Congress -- opposed by the National Rifle Association -- that would prohibit people on terror watch lists from buying guns.
Bipartisan Legislation Introduced To Curb The More Than 2,000 Gun Purchases By Individuals On The Terror Watch List That Were Approved Over A 10-Year Period
GAO Report Found That Individuals On The Terror Watch List Are Approved To Buy A Gun 91 Percent Of The Time. In a November 16 article, The Washington Post's Wonkblog explained that “known and suspected terrorists are allowed to purchase firearms under federal law,” citing data from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) showing over 2,000 successful attempts to purchase guns by people on the FBI's consolidated terror watch list:
Given France's strict gun laws, the terrorists who attacked Paris on Friday may have turned to black market sources for the weapons they used. But in the United States, known and suspected terrorists are allowed to purchase firearms under federal law.
“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.
And, as the GAO found, a number of them do: 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.
[The Washington Post, Wonkblog, 11/16/15]
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) And Rep. Peter King (R-NY) Introduced Legislation To Curb Gun Sales To Individuals On The Terror Watch List. The Associated Press reported on November 20 that “Democrats are renewing calls for Congress to pass legislation aimed at preventing terrorists from buying guns,” noting proposals by Feinstein and King:
Sensing a political opening from last week's Paris attacks, Democrats are renewing calls for Congress to pass legislation aimed at preventing terrorists from buying guns. Similar bills -- including a post-9/11 measure backed by the Justice Department under Republican President George W. Bush -- have been stymied for years, thanks in large part to opposition from gun-rights groups and congressional Republicans.
The new Democratic push, which is considered unlikely to succeed in the GOP-controlled Congress, is focused on legislation by 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 if government officials believed they might use the weapon for terrorism.
Currently, sales by gun dealers are prohibited to 10 categories of people, including those 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. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Feinstein's bill echoes legislation that the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., proposed repeatedly over the last decade. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., has also long pushed the same legislation to no avail. [Associated Press, 11/20/15]
NRA: Rep. King “Is Pushing A Scheme To Deny Your Second Amendment Rights” With Terror Watch List Legislation. The NRA's online magazine America's 1st Freedom misidentified Rep. King as a Democrat in an article opposing the legislation, writing, “Amid the horror and outrage over last week's Paris terrorist attacks, on the pretext of stopping terrorism, New York Democrat Congressman Pete King is pushing a scheme to deny your Second Amendment rights -- and deny your right to due process in the bargain -- by banning firearm sales to anyone on the FBI's so-called Terrorist Watch List.” [America's 1st Freedom, 11/20/15]
Sunday Shows Challenge Republican Candidates To Explain Their Position On Guns And The “Terror Gap”
ABC's George Stephanopoulos Grilled Donald Trump Over Whether He Would Support Prohibiting Gun Sales To Individuals On The Terror Watch List. On the November 22 edition of ABC's This Week, host George Stephanopoulos repeatedly pressed Donald Trump to explain his position, with Trump finally stating, “If somebody is on a watch list and an enemy of state and we know it's an enemy of state, I would keep them away, absolutely” :
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You've also talked about you want to keep the terror watch list, but under current law individuals on the terror watch list and the no-fly list have been allowed to buy guns and explosives. Are you OK with that?
DONALD TRUMP: We have to have a watch list, and if that watch list has somebody that's -- you know, we have -- you know, we have the laws right now. We have the laws already on the books as far as Second Amendment for guns, and as you know I'm a big, big, really big proponent of the Second Amendment. If in -- I'll give you an example. If in Paris some of those people, those -- and if you had some of those people had guns, you wouldn't have had the horror show that you had with nobody...
STEPHANOPOULOS: But why should someone on the watch list --
TRUMP: -- out of hundreds of people [INAUDIBLE]
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- be able to have a gun?
TRUMP: No, no. You -- if people are on a watch list or people are sick, you have already -- this is already covered in the legislation that we already have, George. It's already fully covered.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, but under current law --
TRUMP: But we have --
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- people on the watch list --
TRUMP: -- if we have an enemy of state --
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- are allowed to buy guns.
TRUMP: Listen, George, if we have an enemy of state, I don't want to give him anything. I want to have him in jail, that's what I want. I want to have him in jail. But if those people in Paris had guns in that room, it would have been a shootout and very few people would have been hurt by comparison to the number that were hurt.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But yesterday --
TRUMP: I'll tell you who would have been hurt, the bad guys would --
STEPHANOPOULOS: But yes or no?
TRUMP: -- because they were the only ones that had the guns.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. Trump, yes or no, should someone on the terror watch list be allowed to buy a gun?
TRUMP: If somebody is on a watch list and an enemy of state and we know it's an enemy of state, I would keep them away, absolutely. [ABC, This Week with George Stephanopoulos, 11/22/15]
Stephanopoulos To Ben Carson: “Under The Current Law, People On The Terror Watch List Are Permitted To Buy Guns, Have Been Permitted To Buy Guns And Explosives. Would You Continue That?” Later on This Week, Ben Carson suggested he would not change current law saying, “I am a big supporter of the Second Amendment, and I don't want to deprive people unnecessarily of that, there needs to be better due process.” [ABC, This Week with George Stephanopoulos, 11/22/15]
NBC's Chuck Todd Asked John Kasich His Position On Guns And The Terror Watch List, Noting “The NRA Is Not Happy” With The Proposal In Congress To Curb The Sales. On the November 22 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, Gov. John Kasich said that he had never heard of the issue but added that “if we want to examine people who are on terrorist watch lists and not let them buy a gun, it's something that ought to be considered. It's the first I've ever heard of it.” [NBC, Meet the Press, 11/22/15]
CNN's Jake Tapper To Chris Christie: “According To The Government Accountability Office, Over The Past Decade, Suspected Terrorists Exploited A Loophole More Than 2,000 Times.” On the November 22 edition of CNN's State of the Union, host Jake Tapper noted that as governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie signed legislation to prevent gun sales to suspected terrorists, but Christie said on federal legislation, “I think these are state by state determinations, Jake, and they should be made state by state.” [CNN, State of the Union, 11/22/15]