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By Therese Postel
Policy Associate, The Century Foundation
Posted also at Blog of The Century

On March 1, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) released the most recent version of its English-language recruitment magazine, Inspire. With each passing publication comes analysis from the counterterrorism community. This edition, the tenth in the series so far, seems to teeter toward ridiculous. Authors call for cartoonish plots to cause automobile accidents with oil-lubricated roads and for blowing up parked cars.

There are some good chuckles on the pages of Inspire, but an AQAP “public service announcement” on the last page of the magazine should be of serious concern to President Obama and Congress as they continue the gun control debate. The announcement suggests that those aspiring to jihad should consider themselves as the “terrorist next door.” AQAP states the “M-16” is “abundant in enemies’ land” along with “any other weapon” and encourages “lone mujahids” to use these weapons to commit acts of terror. Although gun rights enthusiasts will protest that there are no M-16s floating around the United States, no doubt those seeking to follow these instructions will look to the AR-15, the civilian version of the M-16, which is the most popular rifle in the United States. AQAP recognizes and hopes to exploit an unfortunate fact: background checks are weak in the United States, making  guns easy to obtain. And, in fact, we have already seen the horrible results one “lone mujahid” can cause by following the path that AQAP suggests.

In 2009, Major Nidal Malik Hasan went to a gun retailer in Texas, passed a background exam, and purchased the high-powered semi-automatic handgun (the FN Herstal 5.7) he would use to kill 13 members of our military at Fort Hood. Hasan had been investigated in the past by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) because of e-mails he exchanged with radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. But, despite this suspicion, Hasan’s name came up clean in the National Instant Background Check System because of legal restrictions that have created a “terror gap,” preventing information sharing between law enforcement agencies. If these restrictions were not in place, perhaps this background exam and the records of an investigation by the JTTF would have been seen by the same sets of eyes, and would have raised red flags.

The example of the tragedy at Fort Hood—where a soldier who was known to be in direct contact with al-Awlaki still managed to purchase a gun—should have been a strong enough reason to improve our background exam system. Yet, in 2011, when the House Judiciary Committee had the opportunity to close the “terror gap” by advancing an amendment to the Patriot Act that would have given the U.S. Attorney General the ability to prevent gun sales to suspected terrorists, it failed. The amendment never even made it out of committee, as it was voted down along party lines. As a result, individuals who are unable to get on an airplane because they are on the terrorist watch list are still able to purchase firearms in the United States. One would think that strengthening our system of background exams to eliminate this threat would be an easy sell.

This issue of Inspire is not the first time that AQAP has mentioned our weak gun laws while encouraging firearm violence in the United States. Shortly after the death of Osama bin Laden, AQAP member Adam Gadahn (a United States citizen) encouraged American Muslims to take advantage of the “gun show loophole.” Gadahn realizes that firearm and ammunition purchases at gun shows rarely require a background exam and, often, all you need is a driver’s license to buy some of the deadliest weapons available:

You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle without a background check and, most likely, without having to show an identification card. . . . So what are you waiting for?
Recognizing the danger presented by Gadahn’s call to action, Mayor Bloomberg and the Coalition of Mayors Against Illegal Gunsincluded it as a part of their gun control campaign. Members of Congress also have been acutely aware of these loopholes, and their potential exploitation by domestic or foreign terrorists, yet they refuse to act.

The failure of Congress to tighten our system of background checks after the Fort Hood shooting is inexcusable. Now, in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Shooting, people truly believe that the tide has turned and expect some new gun control legislation—stronger background exams, stiffer requirements for gun shows, the elimination of straw purchases—but, as of yet, there has been no change in our laws.

As the months fade away since the shooting in Newtown—just as they did after Oak Creek, Aurora, and Fort Hood—one has to wonder what it will take to get some tighter gun laws passed. Will it take a terrorist, be they a KKK or Al-Qaeda sympathizer, inflicting enough pain on our nation to inspire Congress finally to take action and change the laws that have made it all too easy for dangerous people to get hands on firearms? AQAP seems to recognize an opening, and hopes we don’t act any time soon. The question I’d like to pose to Congress right now has already been asked by Gadahn—So what are you waiting for?

Originally posted to Blog of the Century on Tue Mar 05, 2013 at 08:31 AM PST.

Also republished by Shut Down the NRA.

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