More than two dozen Democrats in the House and Senate — and one Republican — want to give the U.S. attorney general the power to block the sale of guns and explosives to known terrorists, and also to anyone who is "appropriately suspected" of being a terrorist.
The Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act was introduced this week by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.). They say it makes no sense that people on the terrorist watch list are prohibited from boarding airplanes in the United States, but are still free to buy guns and explosives.
"Federal law already prohibits nine categories of dangerous persons from purchasing or possessing firearms, including the mentally ill and criminals," said King. "Yet, after almost 14 years, we still allow suspected terrorists the ability to purchase firearms. It's time for common sense to prevail before it's too late."
Feinstein and King noted that according to GAO, people on the terrorist watch list who tried to buy a weapon in 2013 and 2014 were successful about 93 percent of the time.
But it seems unlikely that a GOP-led House and Senate will agree to give the attorney general the power to stop gun sales, especially with President Barack Obama still in office for the next two years.
Under the bill, the attorney general would be able to stop the transfer of a gun or explosive to a "known or suspected" terrorist if it's possible the person might use the firearm in connection with terrorism. The bill language says the attorney general can stop the transfer if he or she "has a reasonable belief that the prospective transferee may use a firearm in connection with terrorism."
Sales could be blocked to anyone known to be involved in terrorist activities, or anyone who is "appropriately suspected." That term is used throughout the bill but is never defined, and would likely be a cause for alarm by defenders of the Second Amendment who might worry about giving the attorney general too much discretion in deciding who is "appropriately suspected" of terrorism.
One example of how that authority could be abused was revealed last week, when it was reported that the Department of Homeland Security had produced an intelligence assessment that focuses on terrorist attacks from right-wing groups interested in defending themselves from the federal government. That led to more criticism that the Obama administration is not worried enough about radical Islamic terrorist threats, and is overly worried about right-wing groups.
The legislation would keep current provisions of the law that allow people who are blocked from buying a gun or an explosive to know why he or she was denied, and to challenge that decision at the Department of Justice, and then through a lawsuit if needed.
The Senate bill is cosponsored by 11 Democrats, and the House bill is cosponsored by 14 Democrats — King is the only Republican on the bill. Read it here: