Press Releases

Carper, Coons Urge Republican Leaders to Act Swiftly on Legislation to Stop Terrorists from Buying Firearms, Explosives

Legislation would close loophole that allows suspected terrorists to purchase firearms and explosives

Nov 24 2015

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons (both D-Del.) joined in sending a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker Paul Ryan urging them to act swiftly to schedule votes on legislation that would prohibit individuals on the Federal Terrorist Watchlist from purchasing firearms and explosives.

The Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2015 would grant authority to the U.S. Attorney General to deny a known or reasonably suspected terrorist from purchasing firearms or explosives, while protecting legitimate gun owners’ rights to acquire firearms or explosives. Under current law, a person known or reasonably suspected of being involved in terrorist activity can purchase firearms, including assault-style rifles, and explosives.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that between 2004 and 2014, suspected terrorists attempted to exploit this loophole and purchase guns at least 2,233 times, succeeding in 2,043 of those instances, or 91 percent of the time.

“In light of the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris, the need to pass such legislation is more imperative than ever so that the United States can address a serious national security and public safety weakness: the terrorist background check loophole that allows suspected terrorist to swiftly pass a background check and obtain a dangerous weapon,” the Senators wrote. “There is no reason why suspected terrorists who we consider too dangerous to board airplanes should be able to walk into any gun store in the United States and purchase a firearm or an explosive for the purpose of carrying out a terrorist act.”

The Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2015 would:

  • Allow the attorney general to deny the purchase or transfer of a firearm or explosive to a known or suspected terrorist if the prospective recipient may use the firearm or explosive in connection with terrorism.
  • Maintain protections in current law that allow a person who believes he has been mistakenly prevented from buying a firearm to learn of the reason for the denial, and then to challenge the denial, first administratively with the Department of Justice, and then through a lawsuit against the Justice Department.
  • Allow the Justice Department, in any administrative or court proceeding challenging the accuracy of a denied firearm or explosive transfer under the bill, to protect information that, if disclosed, would compromise national security.

The full text of the Senate Democrats’ letter is below:

Dear Leader McConnell and Speaker Ryan,

We write to urge you to quickly bring S. 551/H.R. 1076, the “Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2015” to the Senate and House Floor for consideration and a vote.

In light of the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris, the need to pass such legislation is more imperative than ever so that the United States can address a serious national security and public safety weakness: the terrorist background check loophole that allows suspected terrorist to swiftly pass a background check and obtain a dangerous weapon.

There is no reason why suspected terrorists who we consider too dangerous to board airplanes should be able to walk into any gun store in the United States and purchase a firearm or an explosive for the purpose of carrying out a terrorist act.  But today, suspected terrorists can legally purchase guns in the United States—and they’re doing so, even while law enforcement may be investigating them or pursuing their arrest or indictment.

According to a Government Accountability Office letter, between February 2004 and December 2014, individuals on the federal terrorist watchlist tried to buy or obtain a firearm or explosive license or permit at least 2,233 times. 

In 2,043 of those cases (91 percent of the time), the individuals successfully passed the background checks and were able to purchase the weapons or explosives.  In 2013 and 2014, FBI data showed that individuals on the terrorist watchlist were involved in firearm-related background checks 485 times, and 455 of those (about 94%) were allowed to proceed.

When over 90 percent of those on the terrorist watchlist who try to pass a background check succeed, it is absolutely clear we have a major vulnerability that could lead to deadly terrorist attacks. 

Indeed, the Washington Post reports that since March 2014, U.S. authorities have charged 66 men and women around the country with alleged ISIL activities, and that according to the FBI, in a handful of those cases, it has disrupted terrorism plots targeting U.S. military or law enforcement personnel. 

The “Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2015” will make our communities safer, including U.S. military and law enforcement personnel.  It will prevent hundreds of gun purchases by suspected terrorists each year.  Specifically the bill would allow the Attorney General to deny the transfer of firearms or the issuance of firearms and explosives licenses to suspected terrorists if it is reasonably believed those individuals may use firearms or explosives in connection with an act of terrorism.

Importantly, the “Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2015” provides important safeguards to protect a legitimate gun owner’s right to acquire firearms or explosives. 

The need to close the terrorist background check loophole should not be a partisan issue.  The “Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2015” has received support from members of Congress in both parties.  It is also supported by law enforcement and a broad cross-section of Americans.  This and similar proposals have received support from both Republican and Democratic administrations, including the Justice Department under President George W. Bush.

We urge you to quickly bring the “Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2015” to the Senate and House floor for a vote.  Republicans and Democrats alike—should have the opportunity to do their part to keep our country safe by ensuring terrorists cannot obtain firearms and explosives.

By passing the bill we could save American lives and help prevent terrorists from obtaining dangerous weapons.

Sincerely,