Sen. Schumer Calls For Tighter Controls on Gun Buys

November 15, 2009 Updated: November 15, 2009

NEW YORK—Senator Charles Schumer held a press conference on Sunday to call on the Department of Justice to require immediate notification of the Joint Terrorism Task Force when a suspect of a terrorist inquiry attempts to purchase a gun.
Currently, the FBI Counterterrorism Division is notified of background checks when a gun purchaser is listed on the Terrorist Screening Database, but the watch list is not inclusive enough. Senator Schumer says there are many more people who should be on that list who presently are not.

His concern arose when the Fort Hood shooting suspect was able to purchase a gun and pass the background check even though he had been suspected of communications related to a terrorist investigation. The Joint Terrorism Task Force came to the conclusion, after an investigation in December 2008, that Major Hasan was not involved in terrorist activities. They were not informed of Major Hasan's recent gun purchase, however.

“The bottom line is a giant red flag should have been raised when Major Hasan tried to buy a gun,” Schumer said. “We simply cannot allow bureaucratic firewalls to get in the way of tracking potential threats, The FBI and all branches of federal law enforcement have been working around the clock to investigate this tragic incident and I fully support and applaud their efforts, but changing these rules is common sense.”

Senator Schumer has written a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder concerning the gun purchase process, in light of the shooting.

“It is my understanding that when an individual is buying a handgun, National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) staff checks with the Terrorist Screening Center for hits in the Terrorist Screening Database,” he wrote. “In the case of valid hits—where the purchaser in question is the subject of a preliminary or full terrorism investigation—NICS staff can delay the gun transaction for up to three business days and contact the FBI Counterterrorism Division to determine whether those agents have prohibiting information about the individual that is not yet contained in the automated databases.”

Senator Schumer said that denying the suspect his gun purchase would require legislation, but requiring the FBI to notify the JTTF does not and should be done. Senator Lautenberg has proposed such legislation, but it was blocked by gun lobbyists.

He also mentions that there have been previous cases of shootings where either the FBI or the JTTF was not aware that someone previously suspected was purchasing a gun, such as a shooting in Arkansas this year.