WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration says it's taking "seriously" a statement from an al Qaeda spokesman that instructs sympathizers of the terrorist group to exploit soft spots in U.S. gun laws.
Last week, Adam Gadahn, an American-born spokesman for al Qaeda, released a video informing followers that, "America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms" and urging them to exploit what is commonly known as the gun show loophole.
"You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle without a background check and, most likely, without having to show an identification card," Gadahn added. "So what are you waiting for?”
The remarks alarmed gun control advocates, who have warned for years that lax background checks at gun shows provided the easiest of vehicles for terrorists (foreign or domestic) to get their hands on firearms. That al Qaeda's awareness of the so-called loophole was getting scant attention in the press raised concerns further.
Asked for comment on Monday by The Huffington Post, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney acknowledged that he was "not aware of [Gadhan's] statement," before adding that members of the administration were "very mindful of any threats emanating from al Qaeda and take them seriously."
A gun rights advocate who has worked alongside the administration said that the president's team had both seen Gadahn's remarks and was aware of the concerns stemming from them.
Matt Miller, a spokesman for the Justice Department, told The Huffington Post that the administration "supports closing the gun show loophole so that criminals and other people who are prohibited by law from purchasing guns can't acquire them."
Under current law, private sellers are not required to perform background checks at gun shows, something that federal licensed dealers are required to do. By some estimations, private sales make up 40 percent of total gun show sales.
The Justice Department held discussions several months ago about various ways to apply more comprehensive screens to firearm sales. The final product of those talks is not yet known -- a growing point of frustration for gun-control advocates. But there is hope that, at the very least, some executive actions will be taken to strengthen gun protection laws.
But closing the gun show loophole is not a possible executive action. To change the current gun show system to require background checks from private sellers would take an act from the legislative branch. Obama could instruct the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to ramp up undercover investigations of sales at gun shows, something that advocates have encouraged him to do.
Gadahn's statement has also raised concerns about the so-called 'terror gap' in current gun policy: Gun sellers do not have power under law to stop the purchase of a firearm even if the purchaser is on the terror watch list. The Government Accountability Office has determined that more than 1,200 sales to individuals on the watch list took place between February 2004 and February 2010.
A high-profile hearing on the matter ended with Republican senators insisting they would be uncomfortable restricting firearm access to individuals wrongly put on the terror watch list. There is bipartisan legislation pending that would give the Attorney General discretion to slow down such sales, but its path for passage remains obscure.
"A terror suspect can't take a regular sized tube of Crest into the airport, much less board a plane, but they can buy an AK-47 with no questions asked," said Mark Glaze, Director of the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns. "I'm pretty sure if the NRA membership knew its leadership was fighting to protect that special privilege for terrorists, they'd object."
The NRA did not immediately return request for comment Tuesday.
[UPDATE: 2:30 pm:
Multiple readers have noted that Gadahn's statement -- that you can buy a fully automatic weapon at a gun show -- is not true. You can, in fact, get (nearly) everything but a full-automatic. That being said, one gun control advocate notes that purchasers can buy "conversion kits" to turn semi-automatics into full-automatics, and there have been documented cases of individuals doing so.]
* This update was edited for more clarity.