As the GAO's Larence told the Homeland Security Committee, "being on the watch list does not automatically disqualify someone from possessing or receiving firearms or explosives. Rather, there must be a disqualifying factor such as a felony or immigration violation."
Daniel D. Roberts, assistant director of the FBI's criminal justice information services division, told the Homeland Security Committee that the FBI cannot even necessarily stop a terrorist it has under active investigation from purchasing a gun. When a KST is under active investigation, Roberts told the committee, "the FBI case agent is immediately notified and placed in direct contact with a FBI NICS examiner to determine whether there is any information in the case file, or known to the case agent, that would disqualify the KST under the Brady Act from possessing a firearm. Since this process was initiated in 2004, approximately 1,200 such encounters have occurred, and in approximately 90 percent of those, no prohibiting information was found to deny the transfer."
Now, two things need to be kept in mind in light of these facts: 1) the inalienable individual right of law-abiding Americans to keep and bear arms, and 2) the fact that this right exists so Americans can defend their other rights, including their rights to life and property, against, among others, terrorists.
Foreign nationals who are known or reasonably suspected to be terrorists have no moral right to carry or purchase guns in the United States. The GAO testimony indicating that 650 separate individuals on the terrorist watch list had gone through firearms or explosives NICS background checks did not indicate how many of these were foreign nationals and how many were U.S. citizens. I asked GAO if they could provide me with this information, but they were unable to do so by my deadline.
It is a fair assumption, however, that many of these prospective gun purchasers were not Americans.
When Timothy Healy, director of the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center, which runs the terrorist watch list, testified in the Senate Homeland Security Committee last December, he indicated that the overall list then contained about 400,000 people, of whom less than 1 percent was on the no-fly list. Only about 5 percent of that 1 percent was American. "Consequently," Healy testified, "the no-fly list is a very small subset of the terrorist watch list currently containing approximately 3,400 people, of those approximately 170 are U.S. persons."
Surely, the foreign nationals on the terror watch list, not to mention those on the no-fly list, can be instantly denied any opportunity to buy a gun in the United States without violating either the letter or spirit of the Second Amendment.