The New York Daily News on Wednesday devoted its front page to a loophole in federal law that has allowed more than 2,000 people who appear in the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Database — sometimes referred to as the terror watch list — to buy guns since 2004. Because their names are not fed into the federal gun background check system, the 700,000 individuals who’ve wound up on the list because of possible terrorist ties can walk into a gun store and purchase firearms, unless prohibited for the reasons that would stop any prospective gun owner, such as a felony conviction or involuntary commitment to a psychiatric ward. A bipartisan bill that would change that has been stalled in Congress for years in the face of opposition from the National Rifle Association. The gun group argues that the legislation would harm law abiding citizens on the terror list who could be unjustly denied their Second Amendment rights.
Since the Paris attacks, debate over the policy wrinkle has picked up again (hence the Daily News cover), but the back-and-forth has so far looked past a key detail: There’s reason to believe that Muslim extremists are well aware of the loopholes in U.S. gun laws — especially the one that would let aspiring jihadists buy guns even if they have criminal records, and even if the terror watch list is ultimately added to the gun background check database. The evidence is in a 2011 video.
The video — titled “Do Not Rely on Others, Take the Task Upon Yourself” — surfaced in June 2011, a month after the death of Osama bin Laden. In the clip, Adam Gadahn, an American-born Al Qaeda spokesman who would be later killed by a CIA drone strike, advised would-be jihadists in the West to arm themselves by taking advantage of the gaps in U.S. laws and treating the country as a veritable gun bazaar.
“America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms,” Gadahn says in the video. “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 is wrong about how easy it is to buy automatic assault rifles without identification or a background check —the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives must approve those purchases. But Gadahn, who was raised on a farm in Southern California, is referencing the gun-show loophole, which first came to prominence after Columbine when it was revealed that one of the underage gunmen got his 18-year-old prom date to purchase three of the four weapons they used in the massacre from a Denver gun show.
According to a database maintained by the International Security Project of the New America Foundation, since 9/11, twenty-six people have been killed on U.S. soil by attackers with jihadist motives. All but one of those deaths was caused by gunfire. (Expanding the parameters to include other motives, fatal shootings have killed 82 of the 86 people who’ve died in domestic terrorism incidents during the same period.)
Most notoriously, the perpetrator of the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, Major Nidal Hasan, passed a handgun background check at a gun shop while the FBI was investigating him for links to terrorism. Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, an American-born extremist with known ties to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, legally purchased a .22-caliber rifle at Walmart before opening fire on a Little Rock, Arkansas, military recruiting office in 2009, killing one soldier and wounding another.
The numbers for deadly terrorist shootings would be higher had additional plots not been stopped short of their objective after the attackers faced comparatively less difficulty in arming themselves. For instance, one of the two men who launched a failed attack outside an event displaying cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in Garland, Texas, last May was a suspect in a terror investigation, but had no trouble buying a gun from a Phoenix dealer.