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The Daily Need

On terrorist watch list, but allowed to buy guns

The Houston gun show. Photo: Flickr/M. Glasgow

The AP is reporting today that 247 people who are on the federal government’s so-called “terrorism watch list” bought guns in the U.S. last year, and it’s all totally legal. We know about these purchases because these buyers all went through the mandatory federal background check required from licensed gun dealers. But there is no law prohibiting people on the terror watch list from buying guns.

There’s also no way of knowing how many people on the terror watch list bought guns from private gun dealers, like those who set up stalls at hundreds of gun shows around the country. Why? Because private gun sales – meaning guns sold by un-licensed sellers – require no federal background check whatsoever.

Gun-rights groups like the NRA have long argued that the terrorism watch list is arbitrary and has no due-process behind it, and thus it should have no bearing on who can buy guns.

From the AP:

The watch list is secret and generated at the government’s discretion. It is not a list of people convicted of terrorism crimes. The list of about 450,000 people includes suspected members of al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations, terror financiers, terror recruiters and people who attended training camps. People’s names are added to and removed from the watch list every day, and most people never know whether they’re on it.

As NTK reported earlier, state and federal restrictions on who can buy a gun (and where those guns can be carried) have been getting looser in recent years. Many gun-rights advocates feared President Obama would halt this trend, but even after promising to re-open the gun-rights debate in the wake of the massacre in Tucson, the Obama administration has been largely silent.



  • Dcp

    This article goes from claiming 247 people on the terror watch list bought weapons in one paragraph to claiming there is no way to know how many people on the terror watch list have bought weapons. Really? Try writing something with some substance.

  • William Brangham

    Dcp, sorry if this wasn’t clear to you: The article describes two types of gun purchases made by people who are on the federal terrorism watch list: guns bought from licensed dealers (the 247 we know about, solely because federal background checks are required) and guns bought from un-licensed dealers (the ones we don’t know about, because no background checks are required). So we know for sure that 247 people on the watch list bought guns, but cannot know how many more might have bought them from un-licensed dealers. Clear?

  • Avi

    yes brangham you are clearly trying to tread on our rights

  • Avi

    Brangman here is some info via wikipedia….

    The JTTF was assisted in the investigation of the plot on Fort Dix.[6]
    However critics such as David Cole, a law professor at Georgetown
    University questioned the use of paid informants enabling aspiring
    terrorists. “It makes sense in general —but when you’re pressing people
    to undertake conduct they would have never undertaken without an
    informant pushing them along, there is a real question if you’re
    creating crime, not preventing crime.” [7]

    In the 2009 Little Rock recruiting office shooting, suspect Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad
    was warned while he was in a Yemen jail by the FBI that he would be
    monitored by the US government, and he was investigated by the JTTF upon
    his return to the United States after he was deported by the Yemen
    government. Months after his return, he was arrested for shooting Army
    soldiers at a recruiting office, killing one, telling authorities after
    his arrest that his motive was that he was a Muslim angry about the
    killing of Muslims by American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. He has
    since changed his plea to guilty of participating in a jihadi attack on behalf of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula

    On October 2009, Tarek Mehanna was charged in a complaint with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists.
    the complaint affidavit alleges that Mehanna and coconspirators
    discussed their desire to participate in violent jihad against American
    interests and that they would talk about fighting jihad and their desire
    to die on the battlefield. The case was investigated by the FBI’s Joint
    Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) members: Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection, Massachusetts State Police and the Lowell Police Department, in addition to other members.[8]

    In the Fort Hood shooting, suspect Nidal Malik Hasan
    was first brought to the attention of the FBI by internet postings
    which justified suicide bombings as military operations, but they were
    not judged to be a threat. Then in December 2008, the National Security Agency intercepted communications from an Army officer with a suspected terrorist, Anwar al-Awlaki.
    After examination by a JTTF, the e-mails which asked if Islam permitted
    the killing of soldiers who were to be sent to combat against Muslims,
    and how to send money to support Awlaki’s causes could be sent without
    reporting to the government were judged to be consistent with research
    he had presented in a presentation which had warned of “adverse events”
    if Muslims were forced to fight other Muslims.[9]

    The FBI was also notified of large amounts of money that Hasan had
    wired to charities in Pakistan, but the FBI determined that the money
    “went to people not related to terrorism,”[10]
    On November 9, 2009, the FBI said that investigators believed Hasan had
    apparently acted alone. They disclosed that they had reviewed evidence
    which included the 2008 e-mail conversations but said they did not find
    any evidence that Hasan had direct help or outside orders in the
    According to a November 11 press release, after preliminary examination
    of Hasan’s computers and internet activity, they had found no
    information to indicate he had any co-conspirators or was part of a
    broader terrorist plot “at this point”.[12]
    Although this was what they stressed were the “early stages” of the
    review, no contrary conclusions had been reached even after reports that
    the US government believed that Awlaki had been the target of
    airstrikes in Yemen, and that on December 26, 2009, investigators said
    that the suspect of the Northwest Airlines Flight 253 bombing admitted that he had attended camps in Yemen where al-Qaeda members including Anwar al-Awlaki had instructed him, blessed the attack, and provided the bomb.

    On the morning of September 24, 2010, several homes of people active
    in campaigns against US military intervention and Palestine and Columbia
    Solidarity were raided by FBI agents part of JTTFs. Four houses in
    Minneapolis were raided (including people involved with the 2008
    Republican National Convention protests in Saint Paul), along with
    houses in Michigan, North Carolina, and Chicago. The search warrants
    focused on obtaining information from computers and other sources of
    alleged “facilitation of other individuals in the US to travel to
    Colombia, Palestine and any other foreign location in support of foreign
    terrorist organizations including but not limited to FARC, PFLP and Hezbollah.”
    No arrests were made, but agents subpoenaed activists to testify before
    a grand jury in Chicago in October, with reference to “material aid to
    terrorist organizations.”[13][14]


    In 2002, the Justice Department eliminated regulations put in place after the Church Commission
    hearings in the 1970s, which disclosed evidence of politically
    motivated spying and obstruction of first amendments rights by the FBI’s
    COINTELPRO division. Critics worry that JTTF actions may constitute violations of the First Amendment. Documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the ACLU indicate that officers from the Colorado JTTF have been collecting personal information on nonviolent protesters.[15] Agents involved with JTTFs have also infiltrated activist peace groups under assumed names.[16]

    On April 28, 2005, Portland became the only city in the nation to withdraw from a JTTF.[17][18]

    In June 2008, the City Pages broke news that the JTTF based in Minneapolis approached a source to infiltrate vegan potlucks and eventually report back to authorities on organized protesting activities in preparation for the 2008 Republican National Convention in nearby Saint Paul.[19]

    In the wake of the FBI’s consistent performance in handling red flags of possible terrorist threats after the Fort Hood shooting case, Clarice Feldman of The American Thinker
    asked “Aside from racing to the scene of the massacre and declaring
    that this was not an act of terrorism, what is the FBI’s role in
    counter-intelligence? Isn’t it time we stripped them of a task they
    regularly perform so poorly?”[20]
    The New York Post headline stated “FBI blew off killer e-mail to al
    Qaeda Officials admit shrugging off gunman’s e-mails to Qaeda”.[21] The article wrote “The clueless G-men
    said that at the time, they simply chalked up the chilling e-mails
    between Hasan and a radical imam and other terror-tied Islamic figures
    to his ‘research’ as an Army shrink… red-faced agency vowed to get to
    the bottom of things itself.”

  • Anonymous

    If the watch list is secret, how can people on it be banned from doing anything except boarding a plane? TSA has access, but no one else? Please explain how this should work?Is the problem NRA or HSA?

  • Anonymous

    NO. Do you have access to the NICS or FBI files on individuals? Who reported that 247 people on the watch list bought guns? When a 3 year old or a 97 yo grandma can be prevented from boarding a plane because the list is secret and you can’t even challenge your inclusion because you are not allowed to know you are on the list, even with an FIA request? how did you get accurate numbers? Are you even concerned about the erosion of privacy rights?

  • Anonymous

    It would appear that the Federal agencies are still not sharing information even after 9/11. It is so much easier to blame the NRA.

  • really?

    did you read the article before commenting? the article clearly states 247 people on the watch list bought guns. this is where the number 247 comes from. he doesn’t say anything about privacy rights, he was just clarifying the clearly written english for dcp who was unable to understand it

  • Guest

    What I asked was who confirmed those names on the watch list,

  • Anonymous

    What I asked was who confirmed the watch list, since it is secret. You cannot even learn if you are on it with an FOI request. Who is making the 247 claim and how did they know? Supposedly, only HSA and TSA have access, and then just to check the no-fly list. People turn up on that list who shouldn’t be, and have no way of getting off. How many of the 247 were people with similar names? Mistakes on that list are legend. But, as I said, it is secret. So who makes the claim and how do they have access? Because it is in an article or blob or even on Wikipedia, does not make it true.

  • Keith Longar

    This is kind of scary. We have had a House Speaker who negotiated a bill and helped get it passed; THEN she says “we had to pass the bill to know what was in it” We have the Patriot ACT; passed in moment of national crisis. In the Defense Appropriations bill we give the executive the power to detain people indefinitely, We are building a HUGE data storage and retrieval system out in Utah. Now the push is on for Gun control… Maybe I am paranoid, but it seems to me this is an alarming convergence of troubling things. Love to hear some feed back on this.

  • Eric Nirschel

    Protip: Being on a watch list is not proof of a crime. In fact, its not even an ACCUSATION of a crime.

    Do we seriously intend to argue for stripping people’s rights on the basis of hypothetical future crime? Due process is a very real and very important part of the rule of law.

  • Fred Frankenletter

    “private gun dealers, like those who set up stalls at hundreds of gun shows around the country”

    That is just flat wrong. You can’t be a “dealer” without a federal firearms license. A dealer can’t sell a gun without the background check – even at gun shows. I’ve bought guns at gun shows before and ALWAYS had the background check. There is NO SUCH THING as an “unlicensed dealer” as you assert.

    It is true that individuals can sell to each other without the check; but they don’t need to be at a gun show to do so. You are misinforming people. Perhaps you should write about things you are knowledgeable about. It’s not a loophole – it’s a right.

  • Eduardo Acosta

    More anti-gun propaganda

  • BambiB

    The “terrorist watch list” is indiscriminate. It has had US Senators and 7-year-olds on it. There’s no due process involved. You cannot even ask if you are on the list, and if you are, there’s no process for getting OFF the list.

    How would Americans feel about a secret list that prohibited them from exercising any of their other rights – a list that is secret, a list that has unknown criteria, a list that cannot be challenged? That’s right – no free speech for you. You’re on the list. No, you can’t vote. You’re on the list. We can search your home, your bedroom, your computer, anytime we want. You’re on the list. No, you’re not entitled to a speedy trial. You’re on the list!! Sorry, you’re not allowed to meet with your friends, or go to church. YOU’RE ON THE LIST!

  • Liberal4life

    Conspiracy to commit a crime carries almost the same punishment as committing a crime.

  • Eric Nirschel

    Its a shame there doesn’t need to be a conspiracy at all to be on a watch list. Something as simple as having an Arabic sounding name can often be enough. Other times, members of protest and charity groups have found themselves on it.

    Fact of the matter is that the terror watch list is an arbitrary secret list without any means of removing yourself from it, that you can be placed on for no reason whatsoever. No crime is required to land you on the list. To strip people of rights because someone they’ve never met behind a desk half way across the country thinks that their name is suspicious is a disgusting abuse of power and affront to the values we supposedly hold dear.