- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Suspects on the terrorist watch list cannot be stopped from buying guns unless Congress enacts a law making such purchases illegal, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales told a House panel yesterday.

Mr. Gonzales declined to endorse legislation being drafted that would forbid gun sales to suspects on the watch list, but said the administration would give it consideration.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, questioned why the terrorist watch list would be used strictly for airline passengers and not to screen weapon sales.

“Does it make sense to you that we stop a person from boarding the airline in order to protect the public safety, that individual can turn around, get in their car, go to the local gun shop and buy 20 semiautomatic assault weapons? Does that make sense to you, Mr. Attorney General?” Mr. Van Hollen said.

Mr. Gonzales responded: “We don’t want terrorists to have firearms, but at the end of the day we have to enforce the law. And unless they have a disability under the statute, then they’re entitled to a weapon.”

The Government Accountability Office issued an audit last month that discovered suspects on the terrorist watch list made 56 attempts to buy guns and that 47 purchases were completed.

Mr. Gonzales could not explain why nine purchases were blocked, but said Justice Department officials try to find other avenues to block gun sales to those on the watch list.

“Obviously, when someone wants to purchase a weapon and there’s a hit on the terrorist watch list, we try to alert the local officials and see if we can get additional information to find out if there is a way that this person can either be arrested or deported or can we discover some kind of disability to prevent them from getting a weapon,” Mr. Gonzales said.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, is drafting legislation that would forbid gun sales to suspects on the watch list. The bill also calls for sales records to be kept longer than 24 hours, the limit under the current rule.

The hearing was the second of several planned by the House and Senate judiciary committees to determine whether Congress should reauthorize 16 provisions of the USA Patriot Act set to expire at the end of this year.

Mr. Gonzales appeared before the Senate committee Monday and repeated his presentation for the House panel yesterday.

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