Two weeks ago, a visibly frustrated President Obama lamented that U.S. authorities could not stop American ISIS sympathizers from obtaining guns legally. Those comments are getting fresh attention in the aftermath of Sunday’s terrorist attack in Orlando, Fla., where U.S.-born gunman killed 49 people after pledging loyalty to ISIS.
At a June 1 PBS town hall in Elkhart, Ind., the president fielded a question from a man who accused him of wanting to restrict the gun rights of “good guys” instead of “holding the bad guys accountable.” Obama dismissed the question’s premise.
“I just came from a meeting today in the Situation Room in which I got people who we know have been on the ISIL websites — living here in the United States, U.S. citizens — and we’re allowed to put them on the no-fly list when it comes to airlines,” Obama said.
Obama blamed the gun lobby for why he could not crack down on potential terrorists who want to buy firearms.
“But because of the National Rifle Association, I cannot prohibit those people from buying a gun,” he continued. “This is somebody who is a known ISIL sympathizer, and if he wants to walk into a gun store or a gun show right now and buy as much weapons or ammo that he can, there is nothing stopping him from doing that. Even though the FBI knows who that person is.”
The shooter in the Orlando attack, identified as Omar Mateen, was able to legally purchase an AR-15-style weapon and a handgun last week, which he then used to kill 49 people, authorities said.
This is despite the fact that Mateen was temporarily on a terrorist watch list while being investigated by the FBI in 2013 and 2014. (He was not on the watch list when he bought the weapons used in the Orlando attack, authorities said.)
Although being listed on a terrorism watch list does not prevent someone from buying a gun, a 2010 Government Accountability Office report noted that the FBI is notified and included when a potential terrorist attempts to purchase a weapon.
The FBI will then work with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to gather information from a background check, and they share that information with counterterrorism and law enforcement personnel.
Democrats have unsuccessfully pushed for a bill that would prevent people on a terrorist watch list from buying guns. Critics, including many Republicans, argue that the terror watch list is filled with errors and that barring those on it from purchasing guns would deprive U.S. citizens of their Second Amendment rights — without charging or convicting them of a crime and without giving them the opportunity to defend themselves.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Monday that he plans to “ force a vote” on the issue soon.
Watch President Obama’s town-hall comments from two weeks ago: