GAO: Terror Suspects Bought Guns in U.S. Last Year

More than 40 terror suspects on federal watch lists were allowed to buy firearms in the United States last year because background checks found no reason to stop them, says a government report released Tuesday.

Under current law, belonging to a suspected terrorist organization does not prohibit a person from owning a gun, the Government Accountability Office (search) noted in its study.

The GAO recommended that the attorney general clarify procedures to ensure that information from gun purchase background checks is shared with counterterrorism (search) officials and that the FBI should either monitor such checks more frequently or oversee all checks related to terror suspects.

The report showed that from Feb. 3 through June 20, 2004, 35 known or suspected terrorists purchased guns in the United States. From July 1 to Oct. 31 last year, 12 more suspected or known terrorists were allowed to buy firearms.

It said that background checks on these individuals did not provide any prohibiting information such as felony convictions or illegal immigrant status.

Currently, records related to gun purchases must be destroyed within 24 hours as mandated by Congress last year. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (search), D-N.J., who requested the GAO study, planned to introduce a bill Tuesday to require the Justice Department to keep records of such transactions for 10 years.

"When the Justice Department destroys these records in 24 hours, they are essentially aiding and abetting terrorist organizations," Lautenberg said. "It's time to end this nonsensical and dangerous policy."

Peter Hamm, spokesman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence (search), said the American people should pay attention to the GAO report.

"For the last four years, the Bush White House and Republican leaders in Congress have been pursuing gun policies that are on the wish list of the National Rifle Association (search) despite repeated warnings form law enforcement leaders," Hamm said. "These policies benefit terrorists and benefit criminals."

The NRA did not immediately comment on the report.