With new gun controls unlikely, Democrats have turned their attention to explosives, saying the Boston Marathon bombings should prompt Congress to require background checks for buying explosive materials.
Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat, is also pushing legislation to ban people on terrorist watch lists from acquiring firearms or explosives.
“No matter what terror watch list the Boston bomber was on, our porous gun laws would have allowed him to walk into a store and legally buy guns and explosives,” Mr. Lautenberg said Thursday.
Just last week senators rejected a move to expand background checks to include more gun purchases, but lawmakers say the Boston bombings could reignite debate over who should be denied the right to buy weapons or explosives.
Mr. Lautenberg’s bill would require background checks to purchase any quantity of explosive “black powder,” black powder substitute, or “smokeless powder.” It would also grant the federal government the power to nix a sale if the applicant is a known or suspected terrorist.
About two months before the recent attack, accused Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev purchased three pounds of black powder from a fireworks store in New Hampshire.
Current law allows an individual to purchase as much as 50 pounds of the substance without a background check. People can also buy unlimited amounts of smokeless powder and black powder substitute without facing a check.
Between February 2004 and December 2010, there were more than a thousand cases in which someone on the FBI’s terrorist watch list was cleared to buy a gun or explosive, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
Police say Tsarnaev, 26, and his younger brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, were armed when they engaged in a shootout with law enforcement officers last week. But neither was legally licensed to own or carry firearms under local laws.
The White House declined to comment this week on the terror watch list and gun purchases, with press secretary Jay Carney saying it was up to the intelligence community to talk about how people got on that list.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet A. Napolitano recently testified that U.S. officials flagged the older brother when he left the country in January 2012. Shortly before his departure, his name was added to the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE), the federal government’s central repository of international terrorist information that supports other watch lists.
Even as Senate Democrats shifted their focus to explosives, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she still wants to see the lower chamber vote on background checks.
But Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, has repeatedly said he wants to wait for the Senate to act on guns first.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer said Thursday that could still happen.
“This is my own little prediction — I think we’re going to bring this bill back before the end of the year and I think you may find some changes,” the New York Democrat said at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “We may change the bill a little bit, but I think you may find some changes out there in the public. Lots of senators who thought it was safe to vote against it because of the intensity are not so sure anymore.”