In a push to keep Syrian refugees out of his state at all costs, Texas State Rep. Tony Dale made an unusual argument.
Dale said that Syrians should be kept out of the country—and Texas, in particular—because it would be too easy for them to buy guns.
"Can you imagine a scenario were [sic] a refugees [sic] is admitted to the United States, is provided federal cash payments and other assistance, obtains a drivers license and purchases a weapon and executes an attack?" wrote Dale, who has an A rating from the National Rifle Association, in a letter to Senator John Cornyn (R-TX).
To be clear, there have been exactly zero instances of refugees who have been charged with domestic terrorism since 9/11, so there is literally no recent historical basis to Dale's hypothetical.
But while it wasn't his intention, the representative brought to mind a little-known shortfall of current U.S. gun policy. In the words of the Government Accountability Office: “Membership in a terrorist organization does not prohibit a person from possessing firearms or explosives under current federal law."
Between 2004 to 2014, the federal auditors found, over 2,233 terrorist suspects on the federal terrorist watchlist made attempts to purchase firearms. Only 190 of these individuals were rejected. Between 2013 and 2014, the latest years on record, that made for a 94% success rate, reported New York Daily News.
The reasons for those rejections were not based on "reasonable suspicion" that the person was involved in a terrorist group—which is the criteria for getting on the watchlist—but rather that the individual had a felony record, or other things not related to national security.
Despite years of the GAO bringing attention to this loophole of law, Washington has yet to act on it. Several bills proposing fixes to the issue have been presented to congress, dating back to 2007, and all have failed.
The latest version of the Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act was introduced earlier this year by Rep. Pete King (R-NY). It went nowhere. King has been pushing for the passage of the bill since 2009, after it was suggested by the Bush Administration two years earlier.
“It’s sort of a knee-jerk reaction,” he said of the bill's opponents.
Opposing groups like the National Rifle Association have argued that the bill would remove the right of gun ownership for people who have erroneously been placed on the list, which is notoriously hard to get removed from.
Having swelled to over one million names at one point (it is now around 700,000 deep), there is a strong libertarian argument that the list itself is overbroad and overapplied.
But as the most recent report from the Department of Homeland Security shows, the threat of domestic terrorism is equal to—or even greater than —the threat faced from foreign networks or individuals.
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.