Battle Erupts Over Gun Rights For Terror Suspects

07/24/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In defense of the right to bear arms, the National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups seem to have taken up the cause of those on the FBI's terror watch list.

There were 963 people from the watch list who were recorded trying to buy guns in the last five years, according to a new Government Accounting Office report. Well over 800 purchases were permitted under the current law. Only 10 percent of all those who tried to purchase guns were actually turned down.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg would like to stop these sales. The New Jersey Democrat has introduced legislation, the "Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2009," to prohibit gun sales to anyone on the FBI's watch list.

It is Lautenberg's second attempt to address what he describes as a national security concern. A similar bill, which the senator introduced In 2007, met with a determined assault from the NRA and other pro-gun groups before ultimately failing. Despite initial support from the Bush administration, the legislation lost traction after the former president drew fire from the NRA.

In a press release issued Monday, Sen. Lautenberg, invoked the GAO report, which revealed that terror suspects looking to purchase guns are overwhelmingly approved on the grounds that there are no legal means to disqualify them.

"The special interest gun lobby has so twisted our nation's laws that the rights of terrorists are placed above the safety of everyday Americans," Lautenberg said. "The recent GAO report is proof positive that known and suspected terrorists are exploiting a major loophole in our law, threatening our families and our communities. This 'terror gap' has been open too long and our national security demands that we shut it down."

The Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, a gun rights organization, countered Lautenberg with the argument that the proposed change is just the beginning of a larger battle to abolish the Second Amendment altogether. In a statement released Monday, CCRKBA accused Lautenberg of trying to "expand his gun prohibition agenda under the cloak of national security." The group suggested that Lautenberg "probably would" strip Second Amendment rights from all Americans if he had the chance.

Although Lautenberg has supported stronger restrictions on gun sales, a source close to the senator told the Huffington Post that the bill is not designed to strip gun rights from law-abiding individuals, but rather to protect Americans from those who have been decreed a potential danger to society.

The NRA, one of the most powerful lobbies in the United States, used a different strategy against Lautenberg. In remarks made to the New York Times, NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam challenged the authenticity of the GAO findings and warned that those who have wrongfully been designated to the terror watch list could be stripped of their Second Amendment rights.

The NRA did not return requests by the Huffington Post for further comment.

But the battle lines are clear, and this time around Lautenberg is confident he can defeat the tenacious gun lobby. "Once people see the numbers in this report and see that the Senator has a targeted, common sense solution in the bill, he thinks people can be swayed," a senate staffer told the Huffington Post.

While acknowledging the gun lobby's stranglehold on this issue, keeping deadly weapons away from potential terrorists is "so reasonable it's hard to reasonably be against it," he said.

Peter Hamm, communications director for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, agreed, calling the GAO report "scary." Hamm considered it "foolhardy" to support the rights of potential terrorists to purchase guns. "These are people that we may not be allowing to get on an airplane, but yet we're going to let them buy an AK-47. It defies common sense," he said.

Lautenberg's persistence has not gone unnoticed. "We certainly strongly support Sen. Lautenberg's bill and we salute him for continuing to fight to get it passed," a spokesman for the The Brady Center told the Huffington Post. "We think it's very reasonable, and that it ought to be tasked unanimously by the United States Congress."

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