Terrorist Screening and Brady Background Checks for Firearms Page: 2 of 12
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Terrorist Screening and Brady Background
Checks for Firearms
Historically, terrorist watch list checks were not part of the firearms background
check process implemented pursuant to the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act.
Such watch lists were not checked, because being a known or suspected terrorist is
not a disqualifying factor for firearm transfer/possession eligibility under current
federal or state law. Nevertheless, if a person is a known or suspected terrorist, it
suggests that there may be an underlying factor (e.g., illegal immigration or fugitive
status) that could bar him from legal firearms possession. For a time, moreover, all
Brady background check records for approved firearm transfers were destroyed
almost immediately, precluding the opportunity to use the background check system
to screen for known and suspected terrorists.
Consequently, three issues emerged regarding Brady background checks
following the 9/11 attacks. First, should approved firearm transfer records be
maintained on a temporary basis to determine whether persons of interest in
counterterrorism investigations had previously obtained firearms improperly?
Second, should terrorist watch list checks be incorporated statutorily into the Brady
background check process? Third, should persons watch-listed as known or
suspected terrorists be prohibited statutorily from possessing firearms?
In February 2004, the FBI reportedly modified its National Instant Criminal
Background Check System (NICS) operating procedures to retain NICS records
temporarily for approved transfers that result in terrorist watch list hits, and to pass
that information on to FBI investigators on the Joint Terrorism Task Forces. In
addition, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has directed the DOJ Office of Legal
Policy to form a working group to review federal gun laws - particularly in regard
to Brady background checks - to determine whether additional authority should be
sought to prevent firearms transfers to known and suspected terrorists.
On March 19, 2007, Representative Carolyn McCarthy reintroduced a bill (H.R.
1167) that would make it unlawful for anyone to transfer a firearm to a person who
was on the "No Fly" lists maintained by the Transportation Security Administration.
Also, on April 26, Senator Frank Lautenberg introduced a bill (S. 1237) that would
authorize the Attorney General to deny the transfer of firearms or the issuance of
firearms and explosives licenses to known or suspected terrorists. The language of
S. 1237 reportedly reflects a legislative proposal made by the Department of Justice.
Similar proposals were introduced in the 109th Congress. This report will be updated
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Terrorist Screening and Brady Background Checks for Firearms, report, April 30, 2007; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc815829/m1/2/: accessed January 19, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.