Ruth: Fix federal loophole in gun laws

Published Nov. 27, 2015

Would you call this a loophole? Or just loopy?

If we had a quirk in the law that permitted people on the FBI's terror watch list to legally purchase weapons, those preening patriots in Congress would be tripping over themselves to quickly amend a deeply flawed statute.

After all, we must protect the homeland, just like we did after 9/11 when Washington's fawning politicians boldly adopted the term "Freedom Fries" in the congressional dining room just to show the terrorists we meant business. And let us not forget it's called the FBI's "Terror Watch List." That suggests those who wish to do the nation harm could find a weapon a useful tool. Too subtle?

In the wake of the horrific Paris terror attacks, California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein and New York Republican Rep. Peter King revived long-stalled efforts to address a gaping hole in the nation's gun laws, which still permit someone who has been added to the "Terror Watch List" to legally obtain a firearm.

Consider: If someone is on the list, he or she can be prevented from boarding an airplane but can still buy an assault rifle.

It would seem the concerns of Feinstein and King are well founded. Between 2004 and 2014, the Government Accountability Office estimates suspected terrorists on the "Terror Watch List" have been able to buy weapons 2,043 times. And yet, Gov. Rick Scott is worried about a Syrian grandmother moving to Florida?

It would seem simple enough to require gun shops conducting background checks on buyers of weapons to also access the FBI "Terror Watch List" database to see if they are about to hand over a weapon to a suspected terrorist. But it is likely, despite pleas from prominent law enforcement figures such as New York City police Chief William Bratton, the sensible fix will never come up for a vote.

In Congress, Bratton's voice doesn't count. But the National Rifle Association's checkbook speaks loud and clear.

Since 2007, when the late New Jersey Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg first proposed legislation to close the "terror gap," the NRA has opposed any effort to prevent suspected terrorists on the watch list from buying a gun. Sure, go ahead and indulge in a good forehead slap. Everyone else is.

The NRA opposies the Feinstein/King legislation because it believes the FBI "Terror Watch List" is the real problem since it's possible for innocent Americans to be placed on the list.

And oh yeah, President Barack Obama's foreign policy stinks, the NRA sniffed.

The FBI "Terror Watch List," which the GAO estimates includes approximately 700,000 names, might well include some innocent people. And there ought to be an expeditious process to right a wrong. How hard can this be?

But in the meantime, is it really a good idea to ignore a cavernous gap in the nation's security that would permit a suspected terrorist to buy a gun? So much for public safety. So much for law and order. So much for coherence.

Spend your days with Hayes

Spend your days with Hayes

Subscribe to our free Stephinitely newsletter

Columnist Stephanie Hayes will share thoughts, feelings and funny business with you every Monday.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

If the image of the NRA defending the ability of suspected terrorists to arm themselves because they believe the FBI "Terror Watch List" might be less than perfect isn't scary enough, consider one other voice who knows something about America's gun laws.

"America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and buy a gun without a background check."

That was a quote from a 2011 video by American-born al-Qaida terrorist operative Adam Gadahn, who would eventually meet his demise this year in a U.S. drone missile strike, which is one way to get off the FBI "Terror Watch List."

At the end of his video mocking the nation's absurd gun culture and easy accessibility of firearms, Gadahn looks into the camera and asks a simple question of his American followers: "So what are you waiting for?"

Too nuanced for the NRA?