Reality check on refugee panic: Suspected terrorists in America are free to buy guns

     U.S. Army veteran Jim Purcell, of Burrillville, R.I., (left), displays a placard as U.S. Navy veteran Robert Martinez, (right), displays a folded American flag during a rally Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015, at the Statehouse, in Providence, R.I., held to demonstrate against allowing Syrian refugees to enter Rhode Island following the terror attacks in Paris. (Steven Senne/AP Photo)

    U.S. Army veteran Jim Purcell, of Burrillville, R.I., (left), displays a placard as U.S. Navy veteran Robert Martinez, (right), displays a folded American flag during a rally Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015, at the Statehouse, in Providence, R.I., held to demonstrate against allowing Syrian refugees to enter Rhode Island following the terror attacks in Paris. (Steven Senne/AP Photo)

    Now that congressional Republicans and roughly 50 cowered Democratic colleagues have passed a panicky bill to impede the entry of Syrian refugees, perhaps we should pause for a reality check. Let’s ignore yesterday’s pathetic herd stampede, and confront some of the real threats within our borders.

    How predictable it is that the Republican Congress seeks to ratchet up the background checks on Syrian refugees, but will never consider expanding background checks on the gun purchasers already in America. Congress is freaked about the theoretical possibility of violent infiltrators in the Syrian refugee ranks, but routinely feckless about the gun violence that snuffs roughly 10,000 people each year on American soil. Borrowing Chris Christie’s calculus, a five-year-old Syrian orphan is apparently deemed to be more dangerous than an all-American schoolyard doofus with a home-grown arsenal.

    But the wilfull blindness is actually worse than that. While the Republican Congress is fixated on the refugees, thousands of officially suspected terrorists already living in America are free to buy as much weaponry as they want.

    I bet you didn’t know that.

    It’s totally true. As the federal Government Accountability Office explains it, “Membership in a terrorist organization does not prohibit a person from possessing firearms or explosives under current federal law.” The GAO says in a report that roughly 2,040 individuals on the FBI’s Terrorist Watch List bought weapons from American dealers between 2004 to 2014. Go figure. Terrorist Watch List denizens can be stopped from boarding airplanes, but if they want to buy AK-47s or dynamite – hey, no problem, this is America.

    If it seems a tad weird that while Congress panics about Syrian refugees, it allows the suspected terrorists to lock and load…well, permit me to explain. It’s because the NRA wants it that way. Even though Congress is scared of the refugees, it’s downright terrified of crossing the NRA.

    Back in 2007, the Bush administration – realizing that it would be smart to tighten security within our borders – endorsed a Senate Democratic bill (proposed by New Jersey’s Frank Lautenberg) to bar the Watch List people from buying weapons. Gun-reform groups applauded the administration’s move; as Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said at the time, “When I tell people that you can be on a terrorist watch list and still be allowed to buy as many guns as you want, they are shocked.” But the NRA shot it down as an infringement on Second Amendment absolutism.

    A few years later, Congress launched its own bipartisan attempt to change the law. In the House, Republican Peter King said, “We must do all that is possible to put tighter rules in place to assist law enforcement….The war on terror must be fought in all directions if we’re going to stay a step ahead of our enemies.” On the Senate side, anti-terrorist hardliner Joe Lieberman said, “We are simply not doing all we can to stop terrorists from buying guns.” He said it’s “stunning and infuriating” that people on the Watch List are allowed to buy weaponry. Lautenberg said as well that we should “err on the side of protection.” After all, the Watch List is comprised of roughly 700,000 people – suspected members of al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, plus terrorist financiers and recruiters, and people who have spent time in training camps.

    But this reform effort died too, thanks to pressure from the NRA. The suspected terrorists should be grateful that they have such skilled de facto defense lawyers working on their behalf. The NRA extolled its clients as “law-abiding people” who deserved their “Second Amendment rights,” but the NRA revealed its true motives when it warned in an ’09 editorial that if the Watch Listers were barred from buying weapons, “whole segments of lawful firearms commerce could be wiped out.”

    So today, what we’re left with, natch, are empty gestures and bright shiny objects. While Congress beats up on Syrian refugees – insisting that the 18- to 24-month vetting process somehow be strengthened; passing a bill without any expert testimony, without any committee hearings, without any input from the vetters – and while empty suits like Ben Carson compare the refugees to rabid dogs, the suspected terrorists who are already here, already listed by the feds, are free to conduct gun-buying sprees.

    And nobody is happier about this than the bad guys. Check out this ’11 video from American-born al Qaeda operative Adam Gadahn. Here’s his advice to those in America – Watch List suspects and others – who might wish to wreak havoc:

    “And in the West you’ve got a lot at your disposal. Let’s take America, for example. America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle without a background check and, most likely, without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?”

    The man knows his native land.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

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