McCain's Silence on "Terror Gap" In Gun Law

Sen. John McCain portrays himself as a strong supporter of Second Amendment rights. But does that extend to gun rights for suspected terrorists? His campaign won't say where he stands on a bill to eliminate a gun-control loophole that even the Bush administration wants closed: a gap in federal law that inhibits the government from stopping people on terrorist watch lists from buying guns. The bill was inspired by an official audit covering a five-month period in 2004 which found that, because of the loophole, the Feds had to greenlight 35 out of 44 cases where a gun buyer was on a terrorist watch list. One group opposed to closing the loophole is the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a gun manufacturers' trade association. Until this spring, one of its congressional lobbyists was Randy Scheunemann, now a top McCain campaign adviser on foreign policy.

Last year the Justice Department, with White House approval, sent a bill to Congress that would close the loophole by giving the attorney general power to block gun sales to those who are identified via instant background checks as people on such watch lists. As a safeguard, the Bush bill would allow an alleged terrorist to go to court to challenge a gun ban. But the proposal has made little progress in the face of opposition from gun enthusiasts. Ted Novin, spokesman for the NSSF, says it opposes plugging what supporters of the bill call a "terror gap" because it denies "due process" to gun buyers. "Anyone can be put on this list," he says.

Registration documents filed by Scheunemann's company, Orion Strategies, list the terror-gap bill as one of its specific lobbying objectives, and the registrations listed Scheunemann as a lobbyist until he took a leave. McCain's campaign refused to answer questions about whether the senator supports or opposes the White House plan to close the loophole, and it also declined to say if Scheunemann had ever lobbied McCain on gun-control bills. "Randy Scheunemann is a foreign-policy adviser to Senator McCain, and he is on leave from Orion Strategies. We have no further comment," says Jill Hazelbaker, a campaign spokeswoman.