WASHINGTON -- A decade ago on 9/11, al Qaeda terrorists shocked the world by hijacking commercial airliners and using them to kill 3,000 people in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.
While federal officials have since taken extraordinary steps to prevent planes from being turned into incendiary devices or loaded with bombs, our congressional leaders have repeatedly failed to deny suspected or known terrorists access to assault guns and large-capacity clips in this country.
“As a lasting tribute to the Americans and others who lost their lives so tragically on 9/11, Congress should close the gaps in U.S. gun laws that make it easy for terrorists to purchase weapons that can then be turned on our families and communities,” said Dennis Henigan, Acting President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
After the Norway Massacre, President Obama in a CNN interview identified the “lone wolf terrorist,” someone with a single weapon being able to carry out a wide-scale massacre, as the most dangerous terror threat in the United States.
“The risk that we're especially concerned over right now is the lone wolf terrorist, somebody with a single weapon being able to carry out wide-scale massacres of the sort that we saw in Norway recently," (the president) said, according to an AP report of the interview. "You know, when you've got one person who is deranged or driven by a hateful ideology, they can do a lot of damage, and it's a lot harder to trace those lone wolf operators."
We could not agree more with the president, and a University of Maryland Global Terrorism study indicates also that terrorists with guns are the greatest threat. In the 10 years since 9/11, the majority of deaths from terror attacks have come from attacks with guns. Most notable is the attack by Army Major and Psychiatrist Nidal Hasan, who is accused of the Nov. 5, 2009 Fort Hood Massacre in which 13 people were killed.
Because of the gap in our laws that allows suspected and known terrorists to buy guns, Hasan, was able to walk into the heart of the Fort Hood military base and shoot down the men and women working to protect this nation from such threats.
This brutal irony did not persuade a House Judiciary Committee led by Republicans to vote for an amendment to the Patriot Act in May that would have blocked people on the FBI’s Terrorist Watch List from purchasing firearms or explosives. The bill, offered by Illinois Rep. Mike Quigley, was rejected on a party line vote, with 21 Republicans opposed to it.
Recently, Illinois Rep. Robert Dold became one of the few Republicans to publicly support a bill (H.R. 1506), which could close the terror gap. A companion Senate bill (S.34) sponsored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg also awaits action.
In an April 27 letter to Sen. Lautenberg, the Director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues, Eileen Larence, said her department found that from February 2004 through December 2010, more than 1,300 people on the Terrorist Watch List were able to purchase a gun because they were not disqualified under state or federal laws.
An earlier department report indicated that some on the Terrorist Watch List appeared to be making multiple attempts to purchase guns. Some 1,228 purchase attempts through February 2010 were by just 650 individuals. Nearly 70 percent of the individuals (450 of 650) were involved in multiple transactions and six were involved in 10 or more transactions.
In June, a month after the House Judiciary Committee rejected closing the terror gap in federal gun laws, one of al Qaeda’s terrorist recruiters – American-born Adam Gadahn – explained how easy it is to acquire assault weapons in the United States:
"America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle without a background check and most likely without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?"
It should matter to Congress that potentially dangerous individuals, encouraged by al Qaeda, are able to buy firearms with no questions asked.
“Our government has put forth remarkable effort to prevent another 9/11 attack with planes, as it should have,” said Henigan. “But the failure to close the terror gap in U.S. gun laws risk even more American lives to terrorist attacks with guns. That Congress is willing to allow persons on the Terrorist Watch List to stockpile military-style firepower suggests an extraordinary lapse of common sense and political will.”