The FBI tells counterterrorism agents when suspects on its terrorist watch list attempt to buy guns, but rules prevent officials from obtaining details if the transaction occurs, the Washington Post reports. Only if the purchase is blocked is the FBI permitted to investigate the person who attempted to buy the weapon.
The result, the Post says, is that terrorism suspects who do not complete gun purchases may be located but those with lawfully purchased weapons may not be sought.
More than a dozen suspects on the terrorist watch list have attempted to buy guns since the system was implemented this spring.
The rules result from Attorney General John Ashcroft’s interpretation of the Brady gun-control law, which bars authorities from sharing information about legal gun buyers and does not prohibit terrorism suspects from buying firearms. “Being a suspected member of a terrorist organization doesn’t disqualify a person from owning a gun any more than being under investigation for a non-terrorism felony would,” a Justice Department official said.
Gun-control advocates say the rules allow suspected terrorists to evade scrutiny while obtaining weapons. “This policy is mind-boggling,” said Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who has clashed with Ashcroft on gun issues. “We could have a nationwide lookout for a known terrorist within our borders, but if he obtained a weapon, the Justice Department’s policy is to refuse to reveal his location to law enforcement officials.”
Officials refuse to say how many terrorism suspects were able to buy weapons. It is difficult to determine how the system works because the Justice Department will not provide details about it.
Law enforcement sources say that 13 suspects on the watch list tried to buy firearms since the system was established.