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Michigan lawmakers seek anti-terror measures

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The Paris terror attacks have prompted at least three Michigan members of Congress to renew efforts to pass measures they argue would counter terrorism.

Sens. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing and Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township are among the Senate Democrats who asked Republican congressional leaders this week to set votes on legislation to plug a loophole that allows individuals on the government’s terrorist watch list to buy firearms and explosives in the United States.

“In light of the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris, the need to pass such legislation is more imperative than ever, so that the United States can address a serious national security and pubic safety weakness,” the Democrats wrote.

“There is no reason why suspected terrorists who we consider too dangerous to board airplanes should be able to walk into any gun store in the United States and purchase a firearm or an explosive for the purpose of carrying out a terrorist act.”

For years, similar bills have been blocked in Congress due in large part to opposition from gun-rights groups and some Republicans.

A report by the Government Accountability Office in March found that individuals on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s terrorist watch list successfully passed the background check required to purchase firearms 91 percent of the time. There were more than 2,043 approvals allowing them to purchase the weapons or explosives from 2004 to 2014.

The letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin also highlights FBI data showing that people on the watch list were involved in firearm-related background checks 485 times in 2013 and 2014, and 94 percent were cleared to proceed.

The legislation at issue – introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, in February – would allow the attorney general to deny the transfer of a firearm or the issuance of a firearms or explosives licenses or permits to suspected terrorists. The Justice Department under President George W. Bush supported a similar proposal. Rep. Peter King, R-New York, introduced a companion bill in the House in March.

When asked last week whether he supported barring those on the watch list from buying guns, Ryan didn’t directly answer the question: “We are just beginning this process of reassessing all of our security stances.”

Also in the wake of the Paris attacks, Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, has renewed a call to pass her bill to place more restrictions on the program that allows for travelers from certain nations to enter the country without a visa.

Miller, vice chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, is concerned that among the 38 countries participating in the visa waiver program are those from which citizens have been recruited by the Islamic State terror group.

Miller’s bill, approved by the House Homeland Security panel in June, would permit the Department of Homeland Security to suspend a country’s participation in the program if it fails to supply the United States with intelligence needed to identify and vet foreign fighters attempting to enter the United States.

“We cannot wait,” Miller said in statement. “It is even supported by U.S. Travel and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, who is responsible for administering the program.”

mburke@detroitnews.com

The Associated Press contributed