The main Justice Department has ordered the FBI to increase scrutiny of suspected terrorists who attempt to purchase guns after the disclosure that a dozen individuals on the government’s terrorist watch list have bought firearms in the last eight months, the Washington Post says. The FBI will have as long as three days to run additional checks on prospective gun purchasers listed on the Violent Gang and Terrorist Organizations File, a database of more than 10,000 names that includes al Qaeda operatives and other militants, said to a memo from acting Deputy Attorney General Robert McCallum Jr.
McCallum said only one prospective gun purchaser on the terrorist list had been blocked from buying weapons since March. A dozen other suspects on the list were allowed to proceed with purchases because they were not legally prohibited from buying firearms.
The Post had reported that a new program alerts FBI terrorism agents when suspects on its watch list attempt to buy guns, but that Atorney General John D. Ashcroft’s interpretation of the Brady gun-control law prohibits them from obtaining details if the transaction is approved.
Justice officials say that the gun-control law does not allow sharing of information on lawful gun purchases, but agents are allowed to track purchasers blocked from buying guns because of felony convictions, arrest warrants, or other criteria.
McCallum’s memo, along with a Justice Department letter to Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), outlines procedures that will allow investigators more time to make sure that purchases by suspected terrorists cannot be stopped in other ways. Lautenberg, who introduced legislation this week on the issue, said the new procedures fall short. “The Justice Department treats it like a game, in which the FBI gets only three days to prove a negative before a terrorist gets to anonymously obtain firearms,” Lautenberg said. “Why in the world does the FBI need to fight the Justice Department to find the location of a terrorist suspect who is obtaining weapons?”