WASHINGTON (CN) – New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg pleaded with Congress Wednesday to close the “terror gap” in gun laws that allows people on the no-fly and terrorist watch list to buy firearms and explosives. “This is not about the Second Amendment,” Bloomberg told Republican lawmakers who raised concerns about gun rights. “Our Founding Fathers did not write the Second Amendment to empower people who wanted to terrorize a free state; they wrote it to protect people who could defend ‘the security of a free state.'”
Bloomberg and NYC Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly were added as witnesses at a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing after the failed bombing in Times Square Saturday night.
The would-be attacker, Faisal Shahzad, bought a weapon in Connecticut in March, Kelly said, and the weapon was with him in the car on Saturday. A gun purchase “may be an indicator of putting something catastrophic in motion,” Kelly said.
Under current legislation, which allows individuals on the terrorist watch list to buy firearms and explosives, terrorists are “exploiting a dangerous loophole,” Kelly said.
“Thank God it was not worse than it was,” Bloomberg said, praising the quick response of the public and police.
“I came away pleased that the public saw something and said something,” Bloomberg said. He said police officers immediately flooded the scene and started “pulling people back.”
“Fifty-three hours is a remarkable amount of time to bring this case to a close,” Kelly said.
“In New York City, we are doing everything humanly possible to prevent another terrorist attack,” Bloomberg said. “We are the target, we are going to be the target. The next attack or attempted attack will be different.”
Bloomberg used his presence at the hearing to promote proposed legislation that would allow FBI agents to block gun sales to individuals on the no-fly list. Currently, the FBI is notified when someone on the terrorist watch list tries to purchase a firearm, but they can’t do anything to stop the sale.
Since 2004, suspected terrorists have tried to buy guns 1,228 times, and 1,119 times they have been successful, according to new data released by the Government Accountability Office. In the fewer than 10 percent of attempted purchases in which they were denied weapons, it was only because their names appeared on another unrelated list.
“It is imperative that Congress close this ‘terror gap’ in our gun laws,” Bloomberg said.
Committee chair Joe Lieberman said he strongly supported the measure, which was introduced by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-NJ, in the Senate and Rep. Peter King in the House of Representatives.
Lautenberg, sitting on the witness panel, insisted that the legislation is not anti-gun, but is anti-terrorist.
“America is effectively hanging out the welcome sign for terrorists to arm themselves,” Lautenberg said.
But Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., spoke out strongly against the proposed legislation, saying it violated the Second Amendment, igniting a fiery debate in the hearing room.
“We’re talking about a constitutional right here,” Graham said. He said no one’s gun rights should be denied just because his name appeared on a list somewhere. Graham said he understood stripping gun rights from a convicted felon, but not those whose names were on the terrorist watch list but had never been charged with a terrorism-related offense – people who simply had the “wrong name at the wrong time.” He said using the list to deny gun sales is “unnerving at best.”
Lieberman, Bloomberg and Kelly seemed exasperated with Graham’s logic.
“This is not about the Second Amendment,” Bloomberg said. The Second Amendment calls for “reasonable restrictions,” he said, and the proposed law fits within that definition.
“It’s very limited,” Lieberman added, explaining that the proposed legislation doesn’t block an individual from buying a gun, it only allows the Department of Justice to intervene in the sale.
“The watch list is accessed a billion times a year and the error rate is as low as any list,” Bloomberg said. “If there are problems with the list, let’s fix the list,” he said.
“Can I take a shot at that?” Graham asked. “No pun intended,” he quipped, saying he would talk even slower than his Southern accent dictated so the room could understand his argument.
“You talk slow enough,” Bloomberg said.
“I don’t think banning handguns makes me safer,” Graham said. “I think you are going too far here.”
“No one is trying to ban handguns here,” Lieberman said, adding that the even most prized constitutional rights, including free speech, “are not unlimited.” He noted that 82 percent of National Rifle Assocation members believe that suspected terrorists should not be able to buy guns.
“The car bomb found in Times Square on Saturday night was not the only attempted terrorist attack on our city since 9/11 … and sadly, we don’t think it will be the last,” Bloomberg said.
The city has been the target of more than 20 actual terrorist attacks in the last two decades, the mayor said. Eleven occurred since 9/11, Kelly said. The only two since 9/11 that have been carried out successfully have been carried out with firearms.