Co-authored by Daniel Trombly
Public discussions of terrorism tend to focus on dramatic tactics such as suicide bombings. Interest—particularly political interest—in more mundane tools, such as small arms, tends to be cyclical. Occasional crises, like the infamous November 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, throw into stark relief the fact that firearms can be used to carry out lethal acts of terrorism. Following such attacks, there is media attention, but it generally fades quickly.
Congress is currently considering legislation on the connection between firearms and terrorism during a relatively quiet period, rather than in the midst of, or immediately after, a crisis. Recently, Rep. Peter King, the Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, introduced H.R. 1506, the “Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act.” Rep. King has described this legislation as addressing the “terror gap”—federal law enforcement’s lack of authority to block sales of firearms to individuals on terrorist watch lists. To better understand the possible impact of this legislation, Rep. King requested that the Foundation for Defense of Democracies examine “the importance of firearms to terrorists,” including the role of firearms in “future terrorist strategies and tactics,” and “the ability to attain firearms to overall terrorist plans and capabilities.” This report is the result of our examination of the factors requested by Rep. King.