Gun Owners Under Watchful Eyes
Saturday, January 23, 2010
I remember back in 1992 and 1993 when U.S. Rep. Major Owens,
D-N.Y., tried to do away completely with our right to Keep and Bear
Arms. It goes without saying what I thought of Owen`s goal. But, at
least he didn`t lie, or even try to trick anyone about what he was
trying to accomplish.
Instead, Rep. Owens went about his business in
the manner prescribed by the Constitution. He proposed a
constitutional amendment that would have repealed the Second
Amendment --if he could have convinced two-thirds of both houses of
Congress and three-fourths of the state legislatures to go
along--just as the 21st Amendment repealed the 18th Amendment's
prohibition on alcohol. Fortunately, he went down swinging.
Rep. Owens' efforts set him apart from Sen. Frank
Lautenberg, D-N.J., author of the most fundamentally un-American,
Constitution-disrespecting firearm bill introduced in Congress in
my lifetime or yours--S. 1317, the so-called "Denying Firearms and
Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act."
In a letter asking other senators to co-sponsor
the bill, Sen. Lautenberg claims that S. 1317 would only "permit
the Attorney General to deny firearms and firearms and explosive
licenses to known and suspected terrorists." That statement is
false. Lautenberg's horrendous bill would also prohibit the
possession of firearms by people who have been improperly placed on
the FBI's secret Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB) "watchlist"
without their knowledge, according to guidelines that the FBI does
not make public, and without an opportunity to pre-emptively
correct the FBI's error administratively or in a court of law. The
bill would also allow the attorney general to revoke a person's
Federal Firearm License on the same basis.
There are no two ways about it.
Lautenberg's scheme would violate the spirit and
letter of the Fifth, Sixth and 14th Amendments, which protect the
right not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law, the
right of a person "to be informed of the nature and cause of the
accusation" against him, and the right of a person "to be
confronted with the witnesses against him."
The bill's co-sponsors already include three of
the most anti-Second Amendment people ever elected to
Congress--Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., author of the federal
"assault weapon" ban of 1994-2004, Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who (as
a House member) sponsored the ban and the Brady bill and Carl
Levin, D-Mich., who co-sponsored the Brady bill and who since May
1999 has spoken against guns on the Senate floor once a week
whenever the Senate has been in session.
S. 1317's sponsors might insist that a person
prohibited from possessing firearms due to being on the watchlist
would be eligible to challenge his listing in federal court. But,
while waiting for his day in court, the person would still be
prohibited from possessing firearms.
"Day in court" is hardly a fair description of
the experience the person would face--at least for those of us who
are used to being protected by the Bill of Rights against the
arbitrary exercise of government power, rather than being subjected
to kangaroo courts. Under S. 1317, a judge who thinks no private
citizen should have guns would have the power to review the
allegations against a "watchlisted" person behind closed doors,
without making the allegations known to the person. Without that,
the person could hardly present any kind of effective evidence on
And Lautenberg doesn't trust judges. S. 1317 even
dares to prohibit a federal judge from rendering his judgment on
the basis of all documents the government presents to make its
case. It instead says that a judge should consider only those
documents' "summaries or redacted versions," which almost assuredly
would conceal the identity of the former gun owner's accusers.
Now, it's possible that Lautenberg could claim
that the FBI wouldn't put anyone on the watchlist without good
reason, and that guidelines--secret though they may be--are already
in place to prevent innocent people from being "watchlisted"
improperly. After all, the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center (TSC)
says it "does not maintain information on persons who are not
reasonably suspected of terrorism." And Homeland Security
Presidential Directive 6 of 2003 requires that the federal
government's efforts to collect information about known or
suspected terrorists "shall be implemented in a manner consistent
with the provisions of the Constitution and applicable laws,
including those protecting the rights of all Americans."
However, many Americans--including federal air
marshals, young children, military personnel fighting against real
terrorists overseas, the late Sen. Edward Kennedy and a notable
figure of America's modern civil rights movement, Democratic U.S.
Rep. John Lewis of Georgia--have already been misidentified as
terrorists by the Transportation Security Administration's "no-fly"
list. As a result, they've been prevented from boarding commercial
aircraft. And the "no-fly" list is merely a subset of the larger
TSDB, which included about 400,000 individuals as of Sept. 9, 2008,
according to the FBI.
|We've already seen what happens when our Right to Keep and Bear
Arms is subject to arbitrary authority. . . .
Sen. Lautenberg's bill is only the latest in a long
series of attempts to let unelected bureaucrats and other officials
erode our freedoms.
Furthermore, a May 2009 report on a study of the
TSDB, conducted by the Department of Justice's inspector general,
found huge problems with the watchlist's administration. For
example, the inspector general found that "initial watchlist
nominations created by FBI field offices often contained
inaccuracies or were incomplete," that "the FBI did not
consistently update or remove watchlist records when appropriate,"
and that in 80 percent of closed investigations, the FBI failed to
remove subjects from the watchlist in a timely manner or failed to
remove them at all. The report also discovered that 35 percent of
names in the watchlist "were associated with FBI cases that did not
contain current international terrorism or domestic terrorism
The inspector general made recommendations for
improving the administration of the TSDB. However, even if the FBI
were able to perfectly follow existing and improved
procedures--obviously, an impossible task--it would still not
justify S. 1317. Lautenberg is proposing to give unelected
bureaucrats the arbitrary authority to strip away a fundamental
right on the basis of a mere accusation.
We don't do that in America.
In many ways, we've already seen what happens
when our Right to Keep and Bear Arms is subject to arbitrary
authority--and what might happen with even more arbitrary
authority. Sen. Lautenberg's bill is only the latest in a long
series of attempts to let unelected bureaucrats and other officials
erode our freedoms.
For instance, many states once had "may issue"
carry permit laws that gave government officials the arbitrary
power to decide whether to issue permits to eligible applicants.
Most of the time, permit applications were denied. It's for
precisely that reason the NRA has spent 20 years campaigning to
quadruple the number of states with "shall issue" laws.
Beginning in the 1970s, gun control supporters
wanted to give the Consumer Product Safety Commission the power to
subject handguns to unachievable "safety" standards, which would
have effectively prohibited their manufacture. Congress wisely
exempted firearms from the commission's reach, so in 1994 the
radical Violence Policy Center (VPC) drafted "model" legislation to
give the same power to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms
(BATF, now called BATFE). Never inclined to hide its intentions,
the VPC said that its plan should result in "a handgun phase-out"
in which "the future manufacture and sale of new handguns would be
prohibited" and "[c]urrently possessed handguns would be required
to be surrendered upon the owner's death."
Similarly, in 1988, the VPC proposed that the
BATF establish guidelines for the prohibition of semi-automatic
"assault weapons." Predictably, in 1989, 1993 and 1998, when the
media and anti-gun groups attacked various foreign-made
semi-automatic firearms that the BATF had approved for importation,
the agency reversed itself, reinterpreted the law and banned
importation of the guns.
Promoting Lautenberg's bill in The Washington
Post, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg claimed the Fort Hood
murders in Nov. 2009 would have been prevented if the bill had
already been law. Bloomberg claims that because the person now
accused of the Fort Hood murders had previously been investigated
by the FBI for sending e-mails to an al Qaeda supporter in Yemen,
the FBI should have been able to search records of the National
Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to see if, by
chance, he had bought a gun. (And yes, Bloomberg also wants to
repeal the law that prevents the FBI from using the NICS to create
a central record of gun buyers.) But Bloomberg's claim is false.
Long before the accused Fort Hood killer bought his gun, the FBI
concluded he was not involved in terrorist activity and a more
comprehensive investigation wasn't necessary. Though the FBI won't
say one way or the other, it is almost certain he was never placed
on the TSDB watchlist. NICS screens the Violent Gang and Terrorist
Organization File (the part of the TSDB in which the suspect's name
would have been placed) when anyone tries to buy a gun from a
federally licensed dealer.
"Honesty" is not a word that comes to mind when
one thinks of Michael Bloomberg, nor when one thinks of Frank
Lautenberg. "Hypocrisy," on the other hand, is a perfect fit.
Lautenberg once spoke disapprovingly of the internment of
Japanese-Americans during World War II, the blacklisting of people
on the basis of mere allegations during the "McCarthyism" period of
the 1950s and "an utterly ruthless enemy . . . who has absolutely
no sense of propriety or decency while it wages war against
innocent people." But that was in 2003. If Lautenberg's reverence
for civil liberties were more than pretense, he would never have
introduced S. 1317.
As the Supreme Court said in another time of
national crisis, "The Constitution of the United States is a law
for rulers and people, equally in war and in peace, and covers with
the shield of its protection all classes of men, at all times, and
under all circumstances." In the face of attacks like Lautenberg's,
it's up to us to remember that principle as we work to protect our