Terrorists buying handguns: there’s no law against it

By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor

Between February 2004 and February 2010, FBI data show that individuals on the terrorist watchlist were involved in firearm or explosives background checks more than 1,200 times, and about 9-in-10 of those transactions were allowed to proceed.

The Government Accountability Office was asked by Congress to take a look at what the FBI does with the information they generate from background checks.

Eileen Larence, director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues at the GAO, told Federal News Radio the findings of the latest report were positive.


The FBI is obtaining a lot more information from these background checks. The background checks provide a lot of information on the individual so if this individual’s under investigation or on the watchlist, the FBI can get additional information that would help enrich their investigations and their case files. And they’re also sharing this information much more with state/local law enforcement and other intelligence agencies who would need this information to be able to make sure we have a handle on any potential threats.

Larence made it clear that just being on the watchlist isn’t enough to stop the sale of explosives or handguns. “People on the terrorist watch list can be put on the list,” said Larence, “just because they might have an association or encountered someone that was of concern in the past, so it’s not that everybody on that list is a terrorist. For that reason the U.S. government can’t deny people on the terrorist watch list guns or explosives just because they’re on the watch list.”

However, there is a move on in Congress to change that. “Congress is proposing a law to give the Attorney General the authority to look at the threat that the person poses and make a decision whether or not they can be given firearms or explosives based solely on that.”

Private transactions, like those at most gun shows would continue to be unaffected by the background checks, said Larence. “This is only for people who are trying to purchase explosives or firearms from a federally licensed dealer.”

Since the No Fly list is a subset of the terrorist watchlist, the proposed law would, in theory, cover everyone on that list as well.