WASHINGTON – Two days after the failed Times Square terrorist was arrested, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., Wednesday heard top New York City officials advocate for barring terrorist suspects from purchasing firearms.
At an oversight hearing, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told the Committee that the sale of guns to anyone on a terrorist watchlist should be banned.
“This hearing on what Congress and the federal government can do to keep firearms out of the hands of terrorists was scheduled long ago but its urgency has certainly been made clear by the events of the past four days,” Lieberman said referring to the failed car bombing in Times Square and subsequent arrest of Faisal Shahzad.
“Our growing understanding of the plot to attack Times Square reminds us that Islamist extremists have declared war on America… In fact, they have attempted attacks on America more than a dozen times in just the last year. The only two since 9/11 that have been carried out and taken American lives were with firearms.
“We simply are not doing all we can to stop terrorists from buying guns. Most Americans understand this has to change, and it can be done without compromising Second Amendment rights.”
The two successful terrorist attacks since 9/11 carried out with firearms were the shooting by Nidal Hasan in November 2009, which killed 13 Americans, and the shooting by Carlos Bledsoe, who changed his name to Abdulhakim Muhammad, who killed a U.S. Army recruiter and seriously wounded another in Little Rock, Arkansas, in June 2009. Other thwarted plots in which firearms figured prominently were the planned attacks on Fort Dix, N.J., and at the Marine Base at Quantico, Va.
Lieberman noted that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has no authority to block the sale of firearms to anyone on the terrorist watchlist. In fact, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that in the last six years, watchlisted suspects have tried to buy guns more than 1,200 times, and were successful 91 percent of the time. The remaining 9 percent of cases were thwarted because of other factors such as the criminal record of a potential buyer.
Even 80 percent of National Rifle Association members believe that suspected terrorists should not be allowed to buy guns, according to a recent study conducted by Republican Frank Luntz.
In 2007, the Bush Administration proposed legislation to give the Attorney General the discretion to prevent the sale of firearms to watchlisted terrorists. It was not enacted.
Senator Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., both of whom testified at the hearing, introduced the Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act, S.1317, which has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Lieberman is a co-sponsor, and mayors all over the country, whose cities are prime targets of terrorists, also support the bill.