New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” yesterday, and delivered a pretty important message to Congress about security threats, though I suspect the Republican majority won’t care for it.
“[If] Congress really wants to do something instead of just talking about something, help us out with that terrorist watch list, those thousands of people that can purchase firearms in this country. I’m more worried about them than I am about Syrian refugees to be quite frank with you.“So if Congress really wants to do something to help the law enforcement community and the American public, let’s start getting serious about doing something that they can actually do something about.”
At issue is a policy we discussed last week: under current federal law, if you appear on the FBI’s terrorist watchlist, you can’t buy a plane ticket, but you can stock up on all the weapons you can get your hands on, often without any background checks. In fact, as the Washington Post reported, between 2004 and 2014, “suspected terrorists attempted to purchase guns from American dealers at least 2,233 times. And in 2,043 of those cases – 91 percent of the time – they succeeded.”
The commissioner of the NYPD isn’t worried about widows and orphans from Syria; he’s far more interested in Congress keeping firearms out of the hands of suspected terrorists.
But at this point, congressional Republicans appear wholly uninterested in tightening current gun laws, and the NRA has resisted any new restrictions on gun purchases, even if that means allowing people on the terrorist watchlist to buy large quantities of deadly weapons.
The way Bratton framed the issue – let’s focus on a real problem, not a manufactured one – is exactly the way the White House is thinking about the issue.
“Members of Congress are prepared to allow those individuals who are already in the United States and are suspected of having links to terrorism of going and purchasing a firearm,” [White House press secretary Josh Earnest] told reporters.“I think that is a pretty clear indication that Republicans in Congress are more interested in playing politics and more scared of the NRA than they are concerned about doing the right thing for our national security,” he said, referring to the National Rifle Association.
“As people are sitting around the Thanksgiving table, as I’m sure they will all across the country, I hope that is a question that will be raised,” Earnest added. “I’m not even sure why that’s even controversial.”
For its part, an NRA spokesperson rejected any suggestion that the far-right group “wants terrorists or dangerous people to have firearms.” The group added, however, that efforts to restrict gun sales to suspected terrorists would be dismissed as an “appalling” attempt to “exploit” the Paris attack.