Trying to close a gap in federal gun laws, the Justice Department yesterday proposed legislation that would give the attorney general discretion to bar terrorism suspects from buying firearms, the New York Times reports. The measure, introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), would give the attorney general authority to deny a firearm purchase if the buyer was found “to be or have been engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism.” Suspects on federal watch lists can now legally buy firearms in the U.S. if background checks do not turn up any standard prohibitions for gun buyers, which include felony convictions, illegal immigration status, or involuntary commitments for mental illness.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, law enforcement officials and gun control advocates have raised concerns that terrorists might exploit loopholes to buy weapons. In 2005, the Government Accountability Office found that federal law enforcement officials approved 47 of 58 gun applications from terrorism suspects over a nine-month period. Lautenberg noted that the bill was only being proposed in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings.