WASHINGTON, D.C. (GNS) - Sen. Lindsey Graham on Wednesday opposed a renewed push by two lawmakers to get Congress to close a "terror gap" in federal law in the wake of the Times Square bombing attempt in New York City.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said the gap has allowed more than 1,000 suspected terrorists to purchase guns and explosives in the past six years and should be closed.
But Graham argued at a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing that measures giving the federal government the power to deny sales to people on the U.S. terrorism watch list would violate the Second Amendment of law-abiding U.S. citizens. The terror list has some innocent people among the 400,000 names, Graham said.
In one well-known case, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., was barred from boarding a plane in 2004 because his name was similar to an alias used by a suspected terrorist.
"There has to be balance. I am not sure this is right solution," Graham said, adding that the bill is another step toward greater gun control. "The problem I have is that the watch list ... has so many problems with it that I don't think it's appropriate for us to go down the road we're going."
Lautenberg and King have introduced legislation that would leave it up to the the U.S. Department of Justice to decide whether to allow gun and explosives sales to those on the watch list. People on that list are barred from flying.
The National Rifle Association opposes the legislative proposals, saying federal law already outlaws "real terrorists" from possessing firearms.
The long-stalled bills got strong endorsements from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the city's police commissioner, Raymond Kelly, who testified at the hearing Wednesday.
The Government Accountability Office, Congress' investigative arm, released a report at the hearing showing that the federal government received 1,228 requests for background checks using the terrorism watch list between February 2004 and February of this year.
In 1,119 of those cases, the person named in the request was allowed to buy guns or explosives because the federal government doesn't have the authority to say no, according to Lautenberg's office.
The recent failed attempt to detonate an explosives-filled SUV in Times Square provided momentum for the Lautenberg and King measures. The man accused in that case, Faisal Shahzad, wasn't on a terrorism watch list before the attempted bombing.
Bloomberg told Graham that the government should have the chance to say no to terrorism suspects in the interest of national security. The government already bars convicted felons, child abusers and others from buying guns, he noted.
The error rate on the terrorism list isn't abnormally large, Bloomberg said, adding: "Let's fix the list rather than not use it."
By RAJU CHEBIUM
Gannett Washington Bureau