As details continue to emerge regarding the nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida – the worst mass shooting in U.S. history – one question persists: How are suspected terrorists able to buy guns in the U.S.?
The gunman in the Orando incident, Omar Mateen, was involved in two recent FBI terror investigations. Yet despite being on the radar of federal authorities, Mateen was able to legally and easily purchase a high-powered assault rifle and pistol in the state of Florida.
The reason why is actually very simple: Under current federal law, virtually anyone can buy a gun in the United States -- in some cases without any background check or waiting period. That's largely due to strict interpretations of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states that "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
The 1968 Gun Control Act does prohibit certain groups and individuals from buying guns, including convicted felons, fugitives, the mentally ill, undocumented immigrants, domestic abusers and unlawful users of drugs. But actually being on an active terrorist watch list does not prevent an individual from legally buying a firearm in the U.S.
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In late 2015, just one day after the mass shooting in San Bernadino, California, Republicans in Congress blocked a bill that would have prevented those on the terror watch list from purchasing firearms. The Washington Post reported that more than 2,000 suspected terrorists were able to buy guns between 2004 and 2014.
The National Rifle Association led the effort to defeat the 2015 bill, saying it would be unfair to those mistakenly placed on a terror watch list. Senator Diane Feinstein, sponsor of the original bill, condemned the vote to block the legislation: "If you need proof that Congress is a hostage to the gun lobby, look no further than today's vote blocking a bill to prevent known or suspected terrorists from buying guns and explosives," she said.
The Orlando incident is already reigniting the debate: Feinstein has announced plans to reintroduce her original bill, and Sen. Bob Casey has proposed legislation to limit gun access for those convicted of hate crimes.
Tragically, even if such restrictions were in place, they would not have prevented the Orlando shooting. Despite the previous FBI investigations, Mateen was not on any active terror watch lists nor had he been accused of any hate crimes.
– Glenn McDonald
CNN: Orlando shooting: 49 killed, shooter pledged ISIS allegiance
New York Times: Omar Mateen: From Early Promise to F.B.I. Surveillance
Washington Post: From 2004 to 2014, over 2,000 terror suspects legally purchased guns in the United States
USA Today: Current law couldn't stop gun sales to Orlando shooter, experts say