The Terrorist & The Terror Watch List

Like most other New Yorkers (where I grew up), Americans, and sentient beings, I am elated that Osama bin Laden will no longer be able to ply his trade. It's been a long process, but the man who turned that beautiful September day back in

[**My Terror Gap Segment on The Big Picture w/ Thom Hartmann begins at 6:47 of this video]

Like most New Yorkers (where I grew up), other Americans, and sentient beings throughout the globe, I am elated that Osama bin Laden will no longer be able to ply his trade. It's been a long process, but the man who turned that beautiful September day back in 2001 into a nightmare for me, as I was watching from Delancey Street, and the rest of the world whether watching from the streets or on their television set, has finally been truly held accountable for his actions.

But now is not the time to simply celebrate and forget that there are many more out there like him. They may lack his funding or charisma, but they do not lack his ambition. This is why it was ironic that the same week we finally got our man, we learned that 90% of those on the Terror Watch List who have tried since 2005 have successfully purchased guns (to say nothing of explosives, which they also have legal access to).

This is a serious gap in our law that needs to be addressed. To quote from a report by Senator Frank Lautenberg:

In June 2009, Sen. Lautenberg and Congressmen John Conyers (D-MI) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) released a new GAO report finding that, from February 2004 to February 2009, there were 963 cases in which a known or suspected terrorist attempted to buy a gun. In 90 percent of those cases -- a total of 865 times -- they were cleared to proceed with that purchase. One of those cases involved the purchase of explosives.

According to the report, which the lawmakers requested in July 2008, only 10 percent of the time were terrorist suspects denied weapons because of disqualifying factors, such as a felony conviction or illegal immigrant status. Being on the Terrorist Watch List is currently not a disqualifying factor for buying firearms.

In response to this report, Sen. Lautenberg has introduced legislation to close the "terror gap" in the nation's gun laws by giving the Attorney General authority to stop the sale of guns or explosives to terrorists. Under current federal law, there is no legal way to stop someone on the Terrorist Watch List from buying guns and explosives.

We should push for Senator Lautenberg's legislation to be passed now. It has had bipartisan support in the past, including the strong backing of former President George W. Bush.

If you don't think we should get on this forthwith, just remember, there are those who will want to take revenge for bin Laden's killing. And there are those who will continue to plan attacks on the United States because it is such a tempting target. They may not have the capabilities to pull off a large scale attack like the one on 9/11. But by allowing them to purchase Jared Loughner's Glock with an assault clip, or (God help us) explosives, we are asking for trouble.

Hopefully most of remember what happened in Mumbai, India. It only took guns, some explosives, a few cell phones, and a hijacked fishing vessel to terrorize an entire city and commit mass murder at train stations, luxury hotels and in the streets. Could it happen here?

The Washington Post's David Ignatius makes a compelling (and chilling) case that it can and will:

Technology is improving for detecting radiological devices that might arrive at seaports. But defenses are thin against bioterrorism and are almost nonexistent against seaborne attackers of the sort who terrorized Mumbai.

What would happen if roving gunmen infiltrated U.S. cities and started shooting? Most U.S. police departments aren't well prepared to deal with such "active shooters," as they're called. Police are trained to cordon off an area that's under attack and then call in a paramilitary SWAT team to root out the gunmen. But what if the attackers keep moving and shooting? The response can be haphazard, as was clear in such disparate incidents as the 2002 Beltway sniper attacks in the Washington area and last year's massacre at Virginia Tech.

"Mumbai is a worst-case 'active shooter' problem," says a former CIA officer who helped organize a DHS pilot program on the subject last summer for police chiefs. "It had multiple shooters, multiple locations, mobile threats, willingness to fight the first responders and follow-on SWAT/commando units, well-equipped and well-trained operatives, and a willingness to die. Police department commanders in America should be scratching their heads and praying."

We can never render a threat such as this nonexistent. But by making it harder for those on the Terrorist Watch List than simply walking into a gun store or show and asking for a .50 caliber rifle, that can take out an airplane, or the latest cool explosive, we are increasing our chances of preventing the next bin Laden from targeting innocent Americans.

Update: Today (Thursday) there was a sudden vote on an amendment in the Judiciary Committee to close the Terror Gap. Predictably, all 21 Republicans--tough talkers on terrorism are they--decided that the financial interests of NRA arms dealers are more important than the lives of the American people.

Full Disclosure: I consult for Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which--to protect American citizens--has made this legislation a priority

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