Dozens of terror suspects on federal watch lists were allowed to buy firearms legally in the U.S. last year, according to a congressional investigation that the New York Times says points up major vulnerabilities in federal gun laws. Suspected members of a terrorist group are not barred from legally buying a gun. The Government Accountability Office said that people with clear links to terrorist groups had regularly taken advantage of this gap. Since Sept. 11, 2001, law enforcement officials and gun control groups have voiced increasing concern about the prospect of a terrorist walking into a gun shop, legally buying an assault rifle or other type of weapon and using it in an attack.
FBI officials say they are hamstrung by laws and policies restricting the use of gun-buying records because of concerns over the privacy rights of gun owners. At least 44 times from February 2004 to June, people the FBI regards as known or suspected members of terrorist groups sought permission to buy or carry a gun, the investigation found. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who requested the study, will introduce legislation to require federal officials to keep records of gun purchases by terror suspects for a minimum of 10 years. Such records must now be destroyed within 24 hours under a new federal law. He blamed what he called the Bush administration’s “twisted allegiances” to the National Rifle Association for the situation. The NRA argues that the FBI’s national gun-buying database would amount to an illegal registry of gun owners nationwide.