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Agenda-Pushing Senator Frank Lautenberg Mischaracterizes Congressional Research Service Memo

Thursday, May 22, 2003

On May 20, 2003, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) made public a confidential memorandum prepared at his request, by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). He now mischaracterizes both his purpose in soliciting the memo and the information the memo contains.

The memo is titled, "Foreign Terrorists and the Availability of Firearms and Black Powder in the United States." While one might infer from the title that it provides a general assessment of issues related to that topic, such is not the case. The memo`s first sentence explains:

"As requested, this memorandum addresses the 28 specific questions you (Lautenberg) asked regarding the possible acquisition of firearms and black powder by foreign terrorists in the United States." (Emphasis in the original.)

Lautenberg has not made his 28 questions public. It appears, though, that they were tailored not to obtain information for his education, but to obtain answers to use in pushing an anti-gun bill he already had introduced. The sequence of relevant events is instructive. On May 20, Lautenberg said, "I have a bill, S. 969, the Homeland Security Gun Safety Act, that will address many of these problems" he claimed CRS identified. The memo was provided to the senator on May 16, but he had already introduced his bill on May 1st.

  • S. 969 proposes to delay some gun purchases whenever the Homeland Security threat level is raised, even though it has never been raised out of concern that terrorists might be planning to buy guns. It also proposes to impose a 30-day waiting period between purchases of handguns. It is passing strange that anyone would try to make it harder for Americans to buy guns for defense when the terrorism threat increases.
  • Lautenberg says that CRS "paints a chilling picture about how easy it is for terrorists to acquire weapons within our borders." CRS said no such thing, and it did not recommend new gun laws.
  • CRS noted that numerous laws prohibit terrorists and criminals from possessing firearms, that foreign terrorists are additionally restricted by laws that affect only non-citizens, and that any terrorist trying to export a gun (as theorized by anti-gun groups) would have to overcome additional legal hurdles.
  • CRS noted that to thwart a terrorist who might try to buy a gun, efforts are underway "to provide limited terrorist lookout records to the FBI to be downloaded into the National Criminal Information Center."
  • CRS cited Bureau of Justice Statistics data showing that "assault weapons" are rarely used in crime. It did not note any instance in which a .50 caliber rifle has been used to commit a violent crime.
  • CRS indirectly noted the futility of gun laws, by pointing out that terrorists and common criminals can buy guns by using easily acquired false identification documents, or through illegal channels.
  • Conspicuous for its absence in the CRS memo was any information indicating that terrorists are currently buying guns, or indicating the extent to which any have done so previously.
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