Union Tribune

January 19, 2002

Gun shows called a terrorist ally


WASHINGTON -- Amid the raft of antiterrorism bills passed by
Congress since Sept. 11, some lawmakers have spotted what they consider a glaring omission: tougher gun control laws.

Those lawmakers and gun control groups cite instances of
terrorists obtaining weapons in the United States at gun shows,
where they can legally avoid background checks.

The lawmakers have gained little traction. Neither Congress nor
the White House has embraced domestic gun control as part of
the effort to bolster homeland security and combat terrorism.

In fact, the Justice Department barred the FBI from combing
through background check records compiled from gun
purchases to see if any of the more than 1,000 people detained
after the Sept. 11 attacks had obtained firearms. The department determined that the records could not be legally used for that purpose.

Several lawmakers have vowed to push the issue when Congress
returns next week from a monthlong recess. Sen. Dianne
Feinstein, D-Calif., said she would propose legislation requiring
background checks for all gun purchases.

"It's actually been documented that terrorists are buying their
weapons in this country at gun shows," she said. "I think the time has come, and I think there is very broad support for this." 

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is sponsoring a narrower bill to
require background checks for all sales at gun shows.

A spokesman for the National Rifle Association, the nation's
largest lobbying group for gun owners, did not return phone
calls seeking comment. But the NRA has accused gun control
advocates of opportunism for linking their agenda to the
terrorist attacks.

Several Democratic lawmakers pressed Attorney General John
Ashcroft on the issue during a Senate Judiciary Committee
hearing on terrorism last month.

"We have been trying to deal with this problem for many
months. Potential terrorists can walk into a gun show, walk out
with a gun, no questions asked," said Sen. Edward Kennedy,

The lawmakers cited a terrorist training manual found in
Afghanistan that reportedly advised recruits to take advantage
of U.S. gun laws to legally obtain firearms and learn how to use

Two weeks after the hearing, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun
Violence released a report detailing several instances in which
known or suspected terrorists obtained weapons at gun shows.
Among them: 

A thwarted attempt by Ali Boumelhem, a member of the
Lebanese group Hezbollah, to ship shotguns, assault weapons
parts, flash suppressors and hundreds of rounds of ammunition
to Lebanon. Boumelhem was convicted of conspiracy on Sept.
10 by a jury in Detroit.

A ring linked to the Irish Republican Army was exposed in
Florida in 1999 after shipping more than 120 guns to Ireland.
Members of the ring were arrested.

Just before Congress recessed, Feinstein won Senate approval
last month of a measure that would impose tougher reporting
requirements on exports of small arms. Sales of small arms and
light weapons that total more than $1 million would have to be
reported to Congress, significantly lowering the current $14
million reporting threshold.

In addition, the State and Treasury departments would have to
write annual reports on arms brokers and efforts to keep the
United States from being a source of weapons for terrorists.

"If there ever was a time to have transparency in the shipment of arms, this is that time," Feinstein said.