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The Crazy Logic of Anti-Terror Law

There’s been a great deal of talk about how the ease of buying weapons in the United States might be helping to arm the Mexican gun cartels responsible for so many border-region killings in recent months. But here’s an element of the gun control debate that goes largely ignored: Under current law, there’s nothing to prevent the suspected terrorists in the country from getting their hands on the same weapons.

Today, New York Democratic Reps. Carolyn McCarthy and Steve Israel took a step to change that, introducing legislation that would prohibit the roughly 2,500 people on the Transportation Security Administration’s terrorist no-fly list from buying guns.

A 2005 report from the Government Accountability Office has added fuel to the lawmakers’ concerns. During a five month period in 2004, the GAO found, firearm-related background checks were performed on 44 people discovered to be on terrorist watch lists. In 35 of those cases, the gun purchases were allowed to proceed because the buyers weren’t found to be felons, fugitives or in any other category that would disqualify them from buying weapons.

“According to the Department of Justice (Justice),” the GAO wrote, “under federal and state law, neither suspected nor actual membership in a terrorist organization is a stand-alone factor that would prohibit a person from receiving or possessing a firearm.”

More recently, the FBI found (pdf) that, of 279 potential gun buyers found in 2006 to be on the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) Violent Gang and Terrorist Organization File, only 49 were denied based on state or federal prohibitions.

Of course, even under the McCarthy-Israel bill, there would be nothing to stop these folks from buying weapons at gun shows, where unlicensed dealers aren’t required to do background checks in any event.

The National Rifle Association has yet to weigh in on the bill. Still, it’ll be interesting to see if the pro-gun group, which has a history of opposing even the slightest weapons restrictions, will support the rights of suspected terrorists to buy guns. Indeed, when a similar Senate bill was offered in 2007, the group did just that. It seems that in the eyes of the gun lobby, suspected terorists have Second Amendment rights, too.

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