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June 9, 2011

Al Qaeda: "America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms."

The assassination of Al Qaeda’s mastermind, Osama bin Laden, demonstrated that the U.S. government can act with great resilience when it comes to combating terrorism. But a new Al Qaeda video released on jihadi websites last Friday provides a terrifyingly simple blueprint for mass murder that should have all Americans deeply concerned. In the video message, Adam Gadahn, an American-born Al Qaeda spokesman, calls on Muslims to purchase firearms at American gun shows and engage in one-man “lone wolf” operations to target “enemies of Islam,” “major institutions” and “influential public figures” in the United States.

Gadahn, who has been on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted Terrorists List for over ten years, instructed would-be terrorists as follows:

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?

Gadahn was describing what is known as the “Gun Show Loophole,” which allows anyone—including terrorists—to walk into an American gun show and buy firearms from an unlicensed seller without undergoing a criminal background check. Under current federal law, anyone “engaged in the business” of dealing firearms must obtain a Federal Firearms License (FFL), conduct background checks on purchasers, and keep a record of all gun sales. Private individuals not “engaged in the business” of dealing firearms (e.g., those who sell guns as a “hobby” or from their private collections), however, are not subject to any of these requirements. Because there is no paper trail associated with private sales, law enforcement has no way of monitoring them.

Unfortunately, the Gun Show Loophole remains fully or partially open in 33 states today. The National Rifle Association (NRA) has always insisted that the loophole is a “fable,” in spite of acknowledging that there are individuals “who occasionally [sell] firearms under limited circumstances” that are “not required to obtain the federal license…or to complete a background check.” The NRA’s relentless fight against closing the loophole began in the immediate wake of the Columbine massacre in 1999, despite the fact that teenage killer made it clear that, “The biggest gaping hole is that the background checks are only required for licensed dealers...not private dealers.”

The NRA’s opposition to closing the Gun Show Loophole is not shared by its membership, however. In a survey of 832 gun owners, including 401 NRA members, Republican pollster Frank Luntz and Mayors Against Illegal Guns found that 69% of NRA members favored "requiring all gun sellers at gun shows to conduct criminal background checks of the people buying guns." Overall, 86% of Americans favor closing the Gun Show Loophole.

The Gun Show Loophole is not the only weak link in America’s gun laws abetting terrorists. Fears concerning the “Terror Gap” have also resurfaced with the new Al Qaeda video. While those on the FBI’s Terrorist Watch List are currently prevented from boarding airplanes, they are free to purchase all the firearms they want at American gun stores and gun shows. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has reported that between 2004 and 2010, suspected terrorists purchased guns on 1,119 occasions.

There have been numerous attempts in Congress to address the Terror Gap, but none have been successful. Most recently, on May 12, 21 Republicans* on the House Judiciary Committee killed an amendment that would have prevented firearms sales to those on the Terrorist Watch List.

These Republican votes reflect the sentiments of the NRA, which opposes efforts to close the “Terror Gap,” claiming they would “deny a constitutionally protected, fundamental, individual right to keep and bear arms without due process of law.” Luntz’s survey again indicates that the NRA is not representing the views of its membership, as 82% of NRA members support closing the “Terror Gap.”

According to a spokesman for the Justice Department, the Obama administration “supports closing the gun show loophole.” But Americans shouldn’t have to wait for a terrorist to open fire in a shopping mall or a corporate headquarters for terrorist violence to be thwarted. Will Adam Gadahn’s eye-opening message to terrorists be enough for legislators to “connect the dots” and take action? We should all hope so.

* The 21 Republicans who voted “No” on the amendment were: Smith, Sensenbrenner, Coble, Gallegly, Goodlatte, Lungren, Chabot, Issa, Pence, Forbes, Franks, Gohmert, Jordan, Poe, Chaffetz, Griffin, Marino, Gowdy, Ross, Adams, Quayle.

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