Terrorists use weak laws to amass firearms in the U.S., report says

Wednesday, December 19th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Armed with a report detailing how terrorists buy guns in the United States, Democrats said Wednesday that stronger federal restrictions on firearms are necessary to homeland security.

``Jihad trainees are instructed to `obtain an assault rifle legally' and enroll in American gun clubs to take courses in sniping, general shooting and other rifle courses,'' said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., referring to training manuals for holy war found in the ruins of a radical Islamic safehouse in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Reed has proposed requiring criminal background checks for all sales at gun shows. A competing bill has been introduced by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del. Previous efforts in Congress to pass such a measure have failed.

Current law requires licensed gun dealers to run background checks to see if prospective gun buyers have criminal records. Checks are not required for other sales, including those between private or unlicensed sellers and buyers at gun shows.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she will introduce legislation next year to require background checks for all gun purchases, even those between private individuals.

``Our current gun laws are so weak that our country serves as a virtual arsenal for terrorists,'' said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who has asked the Bush administration to restrict the domestic availability of .50-caliber sniper weapons that can take down aircraft and accurately hit targets up to a mile away.

The State Department has already suspended further exports of these weapons for civilian use in foreign countries, he said.

The report from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence cites, among other cases, the conviction a day before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks of a Lebanese man for conspiring to ship weapons acquired at Michigan gun shows to Hezbollah, an organization listed as terrorist by the State Department.

The scheme was revealed by a police informant. The report said the Lebanese man, who was running the effort with his brother, should have been prohibited from buying guns because of a conviction for grand theft. But he did not have to undergo a background check, the report said.

Lebanon rejected the U.S. designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, saying it is a legitimate resistance movement fighting against Israel's occupation of Lebanese territory.

Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the National Rifle Association, said gun control advocates were using the terrorist threat to further their political agenda at a time when firearm sales are up.

``These actions have got nothing to do with preserving homeland security or fighting terrorism,'' said Arulanandam, who argued that the Sept. 11 disaster may have been averted if the pilots of the hijacked jetliners had been armed. ``This is crass political opportunism.''

In the Michigan case, it's absurd to blame U.S. gun shows for state-sponsored terrorism that's bankrolled by foreign governments, he said. Also, existing law was adequate in the case to bring the perpetrators to justice.

In addition to complete background checks, the report calls for outlawing mail purchases of parts necessary to make assault weapons; strengthening federal enforcement authority over gun dealers; making permanent the federal ban on assault weapons; placing limits on large-volume gun purchases; giving the FBI access to background check records of gun purchasers in the government's database; and retaining the records for at least six months.