In August, a former Islamic State recruit caused a stir when he described how the terrorist organization sought to exploit America’s lax gun laws.
“They say the Americans are dumb — they have open gun policies” the recruit told the New York Times from a German prison. “They say we can radicalize them easily, and if they have no prior record, they can buy guns, so we don’t need to have a contact man who has to provide guns for them.”
It appeared to be the first time anyone from the Islamic State had spoken openly about the organization’s views on U.S. gun control, as The Washington Post reported at the time.
Now, the Islamic State has spelled out its position in writing.
In the most recent issue of Rumiyah, its glossy multilingual propaganda magazine, the Islamic State encouraged recruits in the United States to take advantage of laws that allow people to buy firearms without having to present identification or submit to background checks.
Recruits should seek out gun shows and online sales in particular, said the write-up in the magazine, which was released Thursday.
“The acquisition of firearms can be very simple depending on one’s geographical location,” the piece read. “In most U.S. states, anything from a single-shot shotgun all the way up to a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle can be purchased at showrooms or through online sales — by way of private dealers — with no background checks, and without requiring either an ID or a gun license.”
“With approximately 5,000 gun shows taking place annually within the United States,” it added, “the acquisition of firearms becomes a very easy matter.”
A caption under a photo of what appeared to be a gun show read: “Gun conventions represent an easier means of arming oneself for an attack.”
The instructions appeared in an article titled “Just Terror Tactics” that recommended taking and killing hostages in the name of the Islamic State. It said firearms were an ideal weapon and told fighters to target people in crowded, public, enclosed areas to maximize the number of fatalities. As an example, it cited the assault on a gay nightclub in Orlando last summer, in which an American citizen claiming allegiance to the Islamic State shot and killed 49 people and injured dozens of others.
Rumiyah’s article said that fighters should consider ambushing and robbing a gun shop or hunting store if they’re unable to purchase guns legally. The article also cautioned against asking others for assistance.
“If one does not possess any direct or informal contact with any gun dealers, he should abstain from randomly asking people whom they consider ‘trustworthy’ for help in acquiring them,” it read, “as in many cases this can lead to one falling into the trap of police sting operations or, at the very least, bringing upon oneself unnecessary suspicion.”
Gun control advocates have warned that some terrorism suspects would have no trouble buying guns through legal channels in the United States. They argue in favor of closing a “gun show loophole” and “online sales loophole” — what they believe are gaps in federal law that allow people to buy firearms from unlicensed dealers without identification or a background check. Legislation supporting such a move has been shot down in Congress year after year.
Another solution, some gun control advocates say, is to bar people on terrorist watch lists from buying weapons.
The National Rifle Association, gun rights activists and some civil rights lawyers contend that terrorism watch lists are too flawed to justify a ban and would violate people’s civil rights. The NRA also argues against legislation designed to close “loopholes,” saying federal law applies wherever a firearm sale takes place.
Under federal law, licensed firearm dealers must run background checks on gun buyers. Private, unlicensed sellers — some of whom set up shop at gun shows — are not subject to the same requirements. As long as the unlicensed seller and buyer reside in the same state, no record keeping is required.
It’s unclear whether exploiting U.S. gun laws is a core strategy in the Islamic State’s fight against the West. But there have been suggestions in recent years that some militants seek to do so.
Last year’s New York Times interview with the former Islamic State recruit was one such example. Another came in 2013, when a two-year-old video surfaced that showed an al-Qaeda spokesman urging fellow militants to buy guns in the United States.
“America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms,” the spokesman, Adam Gadahn said, according to CNN. “You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle, without a background check, and most likely without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?”
At least twice in the past year, alleged Islamic State adherents have confessed to federal crimes after turning to gun shows to arm themselves.
Earlier this week, a Detroit man accused of collecting weapons for the Islamic State pleaded guilty to using a “straw buyer” to purchase a gun at a Virginia gun show in 2015. And in November, a North Carolina man pleaded guilty to plotting a mass shooting in the Islamic State’s name, after discussing his plans to buy a rifle at a gun show and kill as many as 1,000 in a public place.
The issue of would-be terrorists buying firearms from private sellers also came up in the Senate race in New Hampshire last year.
“Terrorists can still today — and by the way ISIS knows it, they have been advertising it — buy guns online and at gun shows in the United States of America,” Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), then a candidate, said in a televised debate.
PolitiFact rated the claim “mostly true.”