Questionable way to deny gun rights
In 2010, the Government Accountability Office concluded that “membership in a terrorist organization does not prohibit a person from possessing firearms or explosives under current federal law.”
Indeed, according to the GAO, between 2004 and 2014 suspected terrorists attempted to purchase guns from American dealers at least 2,233 times. They succeeded 91 percent of the time.
Sounds scary, particularly in light of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris that were carried out largely with small arms. That would appear to be a glaring loophole that threatens domestic security, but the way some in Congress have proposed closing it would create an even bigger threat to civil liberties.
It all hinges on how you define a “suspected” terrorist. For Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D., Calif., all it requires is for your name to be on a government list. She is sponsoring a bill that would prohibit anyone whose name appears on the FBI’s terror watch list from buying a firearm or an explosive while traveling in the United States.
That list, which contained 47,000 names at the end of George W. Bush’s presidency, has grown to nearly 700,000 people on President Obama’s watch. The fact that they are names, not identities, has led to misidentifications and confusion, ensnaring many innocent people. But surely those names are there for good reason, right?
Not really. According to the technology website TechDirt.com, 40 percent of those on the FBI’s watch list — 280,000 people — are considered to have no affiliation with recognized terrorist groups. All it takes is for the government to declare it has “reasonable suspicion” that someone could be a terrorist. There is no hard evidence required, and the standard is notoriously vague and elastic.
Last year, The Huffington Post listed “7 Ways That You (Yes, You) Could End Up On A Terrorist Watch List.” They include being nominated by someone else. In 2013 alone, HuffPost notes, 468,749 watch-list nominations were submitted to the National Counterterrorism Center. It rejected only 1 percent of them.
There is no easy way to have one’s name removed from what amounts to a secret blacklist. On that flimsy premise, Feinstein’s bill would deny an individual’s Second Amendment rights.
Current law prohibits felons, fugitives, drug addicts and domestic abusers from purchasing firearms. The difference is, those people’s rights are subjected to due process before they are taken away. Under Feinstein’s measure, you don’t even have to be arrested or charged with a crime. You just have to have your name pop up on a list, because someone in the government said it should be there.
Something as opaque and corruptible as the terrorist watch list should not be the basis for denying a person his constitutional liberties, whether it be the right to bear arms or the right to due process.
Reprinted from the New Bern Sun Journal
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