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By Office of Senator Frank R. Lautenberg | April 28th, 2011 - 1:19pm
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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) released new data showing that, in 2010, individuals on the terror watch list were cleared 247 times to purchase guns in the United States.  The numbers released today build on data compiled since 2004, demonstrating the significant threat that the “Terror Gap” in U.S. law poses to the American public.  Lautenberg is working to close the “Terror Gap,” which is a loophole in our gun laws that allows known and suspected terrorists to purchase guns and explosives legally in the United States.  

“It defies common sense that people on the terror watch list continue to be cleared to buy weapons legally in the United States,” Lautenberg said. “Polls have shown that the vast majority of Americans - including 82 percent of NRA members - support reform to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists.  This is a homeland security issue, not a gun issue, and there's no reason we shouldn't be able to stop a terrorist from buying a dangerous weapon in the United States.”

At Senator Lautenberg’s request, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has been tracking the number of times that a background check required for the purchase of a gun or explosive indicates the applicant is on the terror watch list since 2004.  Between February 2004 and December 2010, there were 1,453 cases in which individuals on the terror watch list were involved in a firearm or explosives background check.  In 91 percent of those cases – a total of 1,321 times – they were cleared to proceed with the purchase.  On three occasions, a known or suspected terrorist was cleared to purchase explosives.  The updated figures provided by GAO include complete statistics for 2010 and build on a report that documented gun and explosive sales to known or suspected terrorists from February 2004 – February 2010.

national survey conducted by Mayors Against Illegal Guns earlier this year revealed that 88 percent of Americans favor prohibiting people on the terrorist watch lists from purchasing guns.  In addition, a 2009 poll by Republican strategist Frank Luntz found that 82 percent of NRA members who own guns supported closing the Terror Gap and 86 percent of non-NRA gun owners supported closing the Terror Gap.

In January 2011, Sen. Lautenberg introduced the Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Criminals Act (S. 34) to prevent terrorists from obtaining deadly weapons.  The legislation would provide the Attorney General with authority to stop the sale of guns or explosives when a background check reveals that the purchaser is a known or suspected terrorist and the Attorney General reasonably believes that the person may use a firearm or explosives in connection with terrorism.  Under current federal law, being a known or suspected terrorist is not a disqualifying factor for buying guns and explosives.

In 2007, the Bush Administration backed the introduction of Lautenberg’s “Terror Gap” legislation.  In a November 2009 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Attorney General Eric Holder expressed support for the bill.  

The legislation is co-sponsored by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Carl Levin (D-MI), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Jack Reed (D-RI), Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

A complete bill summary is available here: http://lautenberg.senate.gov/assets/terrorgap.pdf 

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Contact Info: 

Lautenberg Press Office (202) 224-3224

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