During the chaos of a sit-in protest by Democrats on the House floor this week, California Rep. John Garamendi, D-Fairfield, delivered an impassioned, unscripted plea to tighten America’s gun laws. The rare and sometimes raucous demonstration came in the wake of the deadly Orlando nightclub shooting.
Garamendi urged a vote on the proposed ‘No fly, no buy’ legislation to ban individuals on the FBI’s "no fly" list from legally purchasing guns. That list is a subset of the FBI’s much larger terrorist watch list.
Estimates place about 10,000 Americans on the terrorist watch list and a small fraction on the no fly list.
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of individuals from other countries are estimated to be on the comprehensive list.
During his speech, Garamendi made a claim about people tied to terrorism buying guns in the U.S.
"You can’t get on an airplane, but more than 2,000 people on that list have been able to buy a gun. This is not only crazy; it is downright dangerous," Garamendi told his colleagues on June 22, 2016.
Rep. Garamendi makes the claim we fact-checked at the 4:10 minute mark in this video.
With his airplane reference, Garamendi appears to be referring to the no fly list. We decided to check whether 2,000 people on that smaller tally have successfully purchased guns in the U.S.
Sorting out the facts
A U.S. Government Accountability Office analysis of FBI data shows nearly 2,500 successful applications for firearms by individuals on the terrorist watch list over the past decade.
Garamendi’s spokesman pointed us to this GAO analysis.
We fact-checked a similar statement in December by California Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena. After the San Bernardino shooting, he said, "Since 2004, more than 2,000 suspected terrorists have legally purchased weapons in the United States."
We rated Thompson’s claim Mostly True, relying on a similar GAO analysis. We noted, however, that an audit showed many people still on the list are no longer suspected of having ties to terrorism, bringing into question the term "suspected terrorists."
The GAO analysis does not say how many people on the smaller no fly list applied for firearms. The office has said in the past it was not able to share that information because the Transportation Security Administration "considers the no-fly list numbers sensitive information," according to a December fact check by the Washington Post.
It’s safe to assume, however, that there have been far fewer guns purchased by people on the smaller no fly list than the larger one.
We asked Garamendi’s spokesman to further clarify the congressman’s comments, but we have not yet heard back.
Rep. John Garamendi said this week "You can’t get on an airplane, but more than 2,000 people on that list have been able to buy a gun."
He appears to be talking about the TSA’s ‘no fly’ list.
Garamendi connected the right number with the wrong register. His claim has a wisp of truth in that people on the larger terrorist watch list, including the much smaller no fly list, have made more than 2,000 successful firearm purchases over the past decade.
But it strains reason, and seems mathematically impossible, that most of those purchases came from people on the no fly list.
We rate Garamendi’s claim Mostly False.
MOSTLY FALSE – The statement contains some element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.
C-SPAN.org, Democratic Sit-In Over Gun Violence Continues, June 22, 2016
Interview, Donald Lathbury, spokesman for Rep. Garamendi, June 23, 2016
U.S. Government Accountability Office, "Update on Firearm and Explosives Background Checks Involving Terrorist Watchlist Records," March 7, 2016
PolitiFact California, "Did 2,000 suspected terrorists legally buy guns in the U.S.?" Dec. 17, 2015
Washington Post, "Every two days, a suspected terrorist buys a gun in the U.S.," June 17, 2016
Washington Post, Fact Checker, "Democrats’ misleading claims about closing the no-fly list ‘loophole,’" Dec. 11, 2015
Read About Our Process
In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.