Saturday, March 26, 2005

GAO Report: Terror Suspects Legally Buying Guns

Given how the Bush administration throws about its anti-terrorism credentials, you would think keeping guns out of the hands of terror suspects would be a priority.

Think again.

People with clear terrorist links are not automatically barred from legally buying guns, a March 9 Government Accountability Office report found. What's worse, rather than allowing the records of terror suspects gun purchases to be maintained in an FBI database, such records are destroyed within 24 hours.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, former Attorney General John Ashcroft blocked the FBI from using gun-purchasing records to match against some 1,200 detained terror suspects, overruling Justice Department lawyers.

Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association has lobbied Congress hard to limit the scope of the FBI database, saying it amounts to an illegal registry of gun owners nationwide. The Republican-led Congress, major beneficiaries of the NRA's generosity, have thus far let the association have its way.

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The result of placing second amendment rights above national security is that terrorist suspects more often than not legally buy guns.

The GAO report found that between February and October of 2004, when a person on the FBI watch list sought permission to buy or carry a gun (or guns), their applications were approved in 47 of 58 cases.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), who requested the GAO study, plans to introduce legislation to address the problem in part by requiring federal officials to keep records of gun purchases by terror suspects for a minimum of 10 years.

Such records must now be destroyed within 24 hours, as a result of a change ordered by the Republican-led Congress last year.

"Destroying these records in 24 hours is senseless and will only help terrorists cover their tracks," Lautenberg said earlier this month. "It's an absurd policy."

Lautenberg also plans to ask Alberto Gonzales, Ashcroft's successor, to assess whether people on the FBI's terror watch list should be automatically banned from buying guns. Such a policy would require a change in federal law, since being a member of a terrorist group is not a banned category.

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