06.16.16

Rep. Schiff Calls on Administration to Create Alert System When Those Previously Under Terror Investigation Purchase Weapons

Asks Administration to Allow FBI to Place Flag in Background Check System Even After Investigation Ceases

Washington, DC – Today, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the Ranking Member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, sent a letter to President Obama urging the Administration take a small step to help prevent future attacks like the Orlando massacre. Schiff encourages the Administration to consider providing F.B.I. agents with the discretion to place a tag on someone who had been under a terror investigation that would generate a hit when they go to purchase a weapon. Schiff also reiterated his support for “No Fly No Buy” legislation to prevent known or suspected terrorists from purchasing firearms or explosives.

In the letter, Schiff writes: “The perpetrator of the Orlando attack, Omar Siddiqui Matteen, had previously been known to the FBI, and in 2013 and 2014, he was the subject of a terrorism investigation. During these periods of FBI suspicion, Matteen would have been listed in the FBI's Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB) as a known or reasonably suspected terrorist (KST), a designation which would have triggered a ‘hit’ in response to a search of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). While designation as a known or suspected terrorist is not cause under existing law to prohibit a weapons transfer, it could trigger a 72-hour waiting period and notification to the FBI that the individual was seeking to purchase a firearm…

“As we seek to reform our gun laws, I believe that an initial step that the Administration may be able to take under existing authority would be to create a mechanism whereby the FBI could, on a discretionary basis, keep in place the KST flag in the NICS system even after an investigation ceased to be active. In the case of Matteen, such a policy would have meant that the FBI could have learned of his purchase of a Sig Sauer MCX assault rifle and a handgun just a week prior to the attack in Orlando. Had the agent been so informed, it is possible that additional investigation could have disrupted his plot.”

The full letter is below:

President Barack Obama

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

As we grieve the loss of 49 innocent lives and the more than 50 individuals who were injured during the worst mass shooting in American history, we feel a deep sense of urgency to take steps to prevent further bloodshed. You have long warned that our lax gun safety laws, including the absence of universal background checks and the wide availability of military style assault weapons with extended ammunition clips, could be exploited by terrorists. Tragically, we have seen that demonstrated in all its horror by a gunman radicalized by ISIS and filled with hatred against the LGBT community.

I believe that everything must be done to prevent terrorist attacks on American soil, and when they cannot be prevented, every step must be taken to reduce their lethality.  As ISIS exhorts its sympathizers and followers to carry out attacks in the United States, we must do more to prevent easy access to powerful firearms by those who would use them to murder Americans as quickly as possible.

In your speech on June 14, you called upon Congress to pass legislation to give the Attorney General the discretion to bar certain individuals on the terrorist watch list and the no fly list from purchasing a firearm. It is imperative that Congress enact such “no fly, no buy” legislation without further delay. But a legislative remedy is not the only option.

The perpetrator of the Orlando attack, Omar Siddiqui Matteen, had previously been known to the FBI, and in 2013 and 2014, he was the subject of a terrorism investigation. During these periods of FBI suspicion, Matteen would have been listed in the FBI's Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB) as a known or reasonably suspected terrorist (KST), a designation which would have triggered a “hit” in response to a search of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). While designation as a known or suspected terrorist is not cause under existing law to prohibit a weapons transfer, it could trigger a 72-hour waiting period and notification to the FBI that the individual was seeking to purchase a firearm.

However, because the investigation of Matteen was subsequently closed, no such notice was generated to allow agents to take a second look when Matteen went to purchase his assault rifle. As we seek to reform our gun laws, I believe that an initial step that the Administration may be able to take under existing authority would be to create a mechanism whereby the FBI could, on a discretionary basis, keep in place the KST flag in the NICS system even after an investigation ceased to be active. In the case of Matteen, such a policy would have meant that the FBI could have learned of his purchase of a Sig Sauer MCX assault rifle and a handgun just a week prior to the attack in Orlando. Had the agent been so informed, it is possible that additional investigation could have disrupted his plot.

Such a designation could be made at the discretion of the FBI agent in charge of a particular investigation, and it could be either indefinite or for a specific period of time, subject to renewal. Since it would not prevent any individual from purchasing a weapon, it would not violate any Second Amendment rights, but rather would simply provide the FBI – which faces an enormous challenge in tracking and investigating terrorist activity in open cases across all 50 states – with a valuable piece of information that could potentially disrupt an operational plot.

I fully recognize that such a change is not sufficient in and of itself, and we believe congressional action is imperative to provide the Attorney General with clear authority to prohibit a sale to an individual based on a designation as a dangerous terrorist, including individuals listed on the no fly list. While this proposal will not prevent all acts of gun violence, it will help reduce the barbarous efficiency of another attack like the one we witnessed this week in Orlando. I look forward to your response and to working with you to prevent additional acts of gun violence across our nation.

Sincerely,