9-in-10 on terror watch list who sought guns were approved in 2015

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WASHINGTON– People on the United States’ terrorist watch list passed background checks and have been allowed to purchase firearms 91% of the time in 2015, updated federal data shows.

An updated report by the Government Accountability Office, released Tuesday by Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office, shows individuals on the terrorist watch list were involved in background checks to purchase firearms 244 times — with 223 of those transactions, or 91%, allowed to proceed.

That same 91% approval rate holds from February 2004, when the National Instant Criminal Background Check System began checking prospective gun buyers against the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s terrorist watch list. Since then, people on the watch list have had their backgrounds checked for firearms purchases 2,477 times — with 2,265 of those transactions allowed to proceed and 212 denied.

Feinstein, a California Democrat, had requested the updated data on March 7.

Under current federal law, there is no basis to automatically prohibit a person from possessing firearms or explosives because the individual appears on the terrorist watch list — though the FBI is notified when those watch list members go through background checks for gun purchases. However, a felony conviction or illegal immigration status are disqualifying factors.

Feinstein has proposed legislation that would allow the attorney general to deny suspected terrorists from purchasing firearms if there is a reasonable belief those guns would be used in terrorism-related activities.

Her office’s release of the data comes as Senate Democrats mount another push — in the wake of the Orlando massacre that killed 49 people and wounded 53 others — to prevent people on the FBI’s terrorist watch list from buying guns.

The same legislation, authored by Feinstein, failed on a largely party line vote in the Senate seven months ago. Republicans argued that many people end up on the watch list mistakenly and they didn’t want to see those people lose their constitutional right to bear arms because of a bureaucratic snafu.

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