WH: Americans Should Talk About Gun Control 'Around the Thanksgiving Table'

By Susan Jones | November 24, 2015 | 8:44 AM EST

(AP File Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - Instead of voting to "encumber and bog down the refugee process," Republicans should go along with a Democrat demand to bar people on a secret government list from buying guns, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Monday.

Earnest said the Republican plan to beef up the vetting of refugees will not improve national security: "Again, if Congress were actually interested in doing that, they'd pass a law that would prevent somebody who's on the terror watch list from being able to buy a gun. That's what Congress should do.

"And as people are sitting around the Thanksgiving table, talking about these issues, as they should, and as I'm sure they will all across the country, I hope that's a question that will be raised, and asked by members around the table--that if we're going to have a serious discussion in this country about national security, let's talk about some pretty obvious things that Congress can do.

"And one obvious thing that Congress can do is pass a law that prevents somebody who is on the terror watch list from--from being able to buy a weapon. That -- that -- there's no reason -- I'm not sure why that's even controversial. I'm not sure why it hasn't been done so far.

"I suspect, however, that it has a lot to do with the fear that Republicans have of the NRA."

It also has a lot to do with a general distrust of secret government lists: Remember, even the late Sen. Ted Kennedy ended up on a terrorist watchlist in 2004 -- and he's not the only American to be surprised by their inclusion on a secret government list of "known or suspected" terrorists.

On the other hand, the man who tried to detonate an underwear bomb on a U.S.-bound airplane on December 25, 2009, was not on the list -- even though the government had been warned about him.

That's the problem: It's not always clear why people are nominated for inclusion on the terrorist watchlist or if their name is ever removed from it.  Just having the same name as a terror suspect apparently can land a person on the list.

Earlier this year, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) introduced a bill called the "Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2015." The bill would give the Justice Department the authority to prevent a "known or suspected" terrorist from buying firearms or explosives.

The National Rifle Association doesn't oppose denying terrorists firearms, but a spokesman told the Associated Press the group wants to ensure that Americans who are wrongly included in the list are afforded their constitutional right to due process.

The Terrorist Screening Center, administered by the FBI, maintains the overall list of known or suspected terrorists. The names in that huge database are then made available to agenies that screen people for possible terror threats.

For example, subsets of the terrorist watchlist are used by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to screen individuals before they board an aircraft; by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to inspect or vet individuals traveling to and from the United States, and by the Department of State (State) to screen visa applicants.

The list is long: A 2009 Justice Department audit found that as of December 31, 2008, the consolidated terrorist watchlist contained more than 1.1 million known or suspected  terrorist identities.

Three years later, a 2012 report from the Government Accountability Office found that after the attempted attack by the underwear bomber in 2009, "nominating agencies have expressed concerns about the increasing volumes of information and related challenges in processing this information."

The 2012 report also noted that the attempted plane-bombing in 2009 "resulted in more individuals in the (terrorist screening database) being denied boarding flights, being deemed inadmissible to enter the United States, and having their U.S. visas revoked, among other things."

But, the report added, "such screening or vetting and related actions have also had impacts on agency resources and the traveling public, including "more individuals misidentified as the subject of a (terrorism) record, which can cause traveler delays and other inconveniences."

The report found that no single government entity is routinely assessing "how U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents are being affected by screening or the overall levels of misidentifications that are occurring."