Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–November 23, 2015. Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth (IL-08) today announced she will introduce the House companion to U.S. Senator Dick Durbin’s (D-IL) common-sense legislation to prevent foreign nationals who have not been fully vetted by our intelligence community from purchasing firearms while they are in the United States by closing a loophole in the Visa Waiver Program. Normally, visiting foreign nationals traveling with visas to the United States are prohibited from buying or possessing firearms, but travelers from one of 38 countries admitted to the Visa Waiver Program are excluded from this sensible public safety requirement through a legal technicality—even though terrorists including a 9/11 co-conspirator and “shoe-bomber” Richard Reid entered the country using the program.
“For all the focus being placed on the refugee widows and children desperately seeking safety and respite from terrorism, we should be at least as concerned about issues outside of our rigorous refugee resettlement process that terrorists have already exploited to gain easy access to our country,” said Congresswoman Duckworth. “While I support the Visa Waiver Program, there’s no reason to give unfettered access to deadly weapons to foreign nationals using the program. If we are truly concerned with protecting national security, we must close the loophole that enables foreign nationals to bypass the long-standing ban on international visitors purchasing firearms. If Congress fails to act, it will have also failed in its duty to protect our people and our national security—I can’t let that happen.”
The Visa Waiver Program enables foreign nationals from 38 designated countries, including the U.K. and France, to enter the United States as temporary visitors for business or pleasure without obtaining a visa from a U.S. consulate before their trip. It also enables American citizens to travel to those same countries without first obtaining a visa, streamlining and improving our freedom to travel abroad.Overall, the Visa Waiver Program greatly benefits our nation by strengthening local tourist economies, improving diplomatic relations and increasing direct foreign investment.
As with any program, however, there are always opportunities to further improve implementation. For almost 20 years, visiting foreign nationals “admitted to the United States under a nonimmigrant visa” have been prohibited by federal law from purchasing and wielding firearms. This provision had stopped all foreign nationals visiting the United States from buying or possessing firearms until the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office of Legal Counsel reinterpreted the statute in 2011 to explicitly exclude foreigners traveling through the Visa Waiver Program. Because they are technically not traveling under a “nonimmigrant visa,”foreign nationals from any of the 38 Visa Waiver Program countries can currently easily travel to the United States, buy a firearm, and use it to cause harm.
“The horrific terror attacks in Paris last week have given new urgency to protecting our own communities from similar terrorism,” said Durbin. “But let’s be absolutely clear about where the greatest threat lies. It is not in the refugee children, women, and families who are the most carefully screened travelers to America. We know that dangerous people like Zacarias Moussaoui and Richard Reid have used the relatively light screening of the Visa Waiver Program to seek entry into the U.S., and we know that current law does not block visitors from Visa Waiver countries from buying and possessing firearms. It’s time to close this loophole that terrorists could very easily exploit to get guns and use them to kill in this country.”
The Duckworth-Durbin Visa Waiver Program Firearms Clarification Act would:
- Make clear that the prohibition on buying and possessing firearms also applies to foreign visitors who enter pursuant to the Visa Waiver Program.
- Not alter any existing exceptions such as the lawful hunting and sporting purpose exceptions.
- Clarify and restore the interpretation of the law that existed prior to 2011.