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Zeldin Introduces Bill To Prevent Suspected Terrorists From Buying Guns And Explosives

December 15, 2015
In The News

In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, California, U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin has introduced legislation that aims to prevent suspected terrorists from buying legal firearms and explosives, although denials would require a court order.

The bill, titled the Protect America Act of 2015, is similar to one that failed in the Senate last week. It would rely on the federal terrorist watch list and no-fly list for information about suspected terrorists, but would allow those denied weapons purchases because they are on one of the lists to appeal in court.

The terrorist watch list and no-fly list have been the subject of much criticism since they were instituted by the Bush administration after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, as critics say many people on the lists are not believed to be a danger to society.

Mr. Zeldin did not support a bill recently introduced by his House colleague Peter King that called for an automatic denial of gun purchases to people on the no-fly list and terrorist watch lists, arguing that the law would violate the rights of people placed on those lists who pose no threat.

His bill would require the attorney general to petition a court to deny firearms purchases to those identified on the lists as actual suspected terrorists.

A subsection of Mr. Zeldin’s bill, HR 4237, also calls for a review of the existing terrorist watch and no-fly lists. It would require the attorney general to review both lists within 90 days of the law’s passage and make the necessary adjustments by identifying suspected terrorists and removing the names of those who have been added to the list in error. Those people have included, according to the congressman, the late Senator Ted Kennedy, other members of Congress, U.S. marshals, and even U.S. service members.

“Some people are on that list just because you want to talk to them because they are a former college roommate of a witness. It doesn’t mean that there is actually something wrong with that person,” Mr. Zeldin said. “Sometimes their name is placed in the system just to help law enforcement track someone down.”

There are approximately 47,000 names on the federal no-fly list, and about 1.1 million on the terrorist watch list, he said.

If the law were to pass, those on a watch list considered suspicious would be contacted by the Department of Justice and told that they may be barred from purchasing firearms and explosives, Mr. Zeldin said. They would also be informed that they can hire an attorney to litigate the issue.

The attorney general can delay the transfer of firearms for up to 72 hours, 90 days for explosives, while the investigation takes place to either clear or confirm the suspect’s possible terror ties.

Anyone can legally purchase many types of long guns, such as shotguns and rifles. Permits are required only for concealed handguns in most states.

Permits from the State Department of Labor and approvals from the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are required for the purchase of explosives, which are frequently used legally by coal miners, farmers, at fireworks shows and on movie sets. They are also commonly used by workers at construction and demolition sites and by law enforcement.

An instant federal background check is required of anyone purchasing any firearm. The process, which takes only a few minutes, is conducted by a dealer with a federal firearms license, usually at a gun shop. Yet these background checks may not prevent guns from getting into the hands of suspected terrorists.

Federal instant background checks reveal only criminal records, such as felony convictions, adjudicated domestic violence incidents, any court-ordered committals and fugitives from justice. These people cannot legally purchase firearms.

But some have argued that a new federal law is necessary because many suspected terrorists do not have criminal records, and the instant background check would not prevent them from walking out of a gun shop with a firearm.

If the law were to be enacted, the attorney general would be required to submit to Congress a written report on the steps taken to review and correct the terrorist watch and no-fly lists.

“I would advocate to identify means to make that process as efficient as possible,” Mr. Zeldin said.