Sunday, June 21, 2009

Where the rule of law meets the war on terror

You gotta love how the NYT starts this story about the FBI's Terror Watch List and firearm purchases:

WASHINGTON — People on the government’s terrorist watch list tried to buy guns nearly 1,000 times in the last five years, and federal authorities cleared the purchases 9 times out of 10 because they had no legal way to stop them, according to a new government report.

In one case, a person on the list was able to buy more than 50 pounds of explosives.

The new statistics, compiled in a report from the Government Accountability Office that is scheduled for public release next week, draw attention to an odd divergence in federal law: people placed on the government’s terrorist watch list can be stopped from getting on a plane or getting a visa, but they cannot be stopped from buying a gun.

Gun purchases must be approved unless federal officials can find some other disqualification of the would-be buyer, like being a felon, an illegal immigrant or a drug addict.

“This is a glaring omission, and it’s a security issue,” Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, the New Jersey Democrat who requested the study, said in an interview.

You see, the supposed problem is that people on the FBI's terror watch list haven't committed any crimes (yet!) and therefore can't be prohibited from exercising their Second Amendment rights, even though the FBI has the unconstitutional ability to keep them from flying or acquiring a visa.

How do you get on the watch list?

You have to be suspected of links to known terrorists. That's it. The government does not have to prove anything, or present evidence to anybody, or even tell you that you are on the list.

There are now over 1,000,000 Americans on the FBI Terror Watch list.

Worse: a Justice Department report in May indicated that at least 24,000 people have been placed on the list by mistake, or through the use of outdated data.

All of those people are already required to undergo a three-day waiting period to see if the government can dig up any incriminating information that can be used under the law to deny them the purchase. Over the past five years, the FBI has been able to do so in 98 cases.

So what Senator Frank Lautenberg wants is the abiity of the US Attorney General to deny firearm sales to American citizens who have committed no crime and have no legal disqualifiers for owning a weapon.

This stinks on so many levels that it is difficult to elucidate them all.

But I'll try:

1) Association with known terrorists is an incredibly loose term (the kind that law enforcement prefers) that generally is focused on people who might frequent the same mosques, have similar mutual acquaintances, or send money to the same charities. If they were actually meeting with terrorists with outstanding warrants, they'd be doing something culpable--but in general they aren't. Instead, they are exercising their First Amendment rights to free association, which is apparently now grounds to violate other constitutionally guaranteed rights.

2) You don't get informed you are on the watch list until you try to fly or obtain a visa or purchase a weapon, and then there's relatively little if anything you can do about it. You cannot take the government to court, and you cannot demand to see the evidence that has condemned you.

3) Senator Lautenberg's intent is to create a completely new category of Americans who can be deprived of their civil rights: the suspected. If we can deny them travel, then why can't we deny them guns? If we can deny them guns, then why can't we deny them driver's licenses? If we can deny them driver's licenses.... This is not an imaginary slippery slope, it is one we've alread slid several feet down.

It does highlight a very interesting loophole in the Bill of Rights that needs some attention: along with Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Assembly, Freedom of Association, Freedom of Religion, and Freedom of the Press, what about Freedom of Movement?

Should not the ability to move around freely in America and to access mass transit be a right and not a privilege?

Ah, but if you have taken your shoes off in airports as many times in the past two years as I have, you know the truth: we all travel only on the government's sufferance.


Townie 76 said...

The whole terror watch list reminds me of the scene in Animal House when the Delta House is told they are "double secret probation" and no one knows what it means, except it is an excuse for the University to get rid of the Deltas. There are some, on both sides of the aisle who believe merely making the list is reason to deny an individual of "inalienable" right.

Maybe what this means is Animal House wasn't fiction!

UNRR said...

This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 6/22/2009, at The Unreligious Right

Anonymous said...

one in a million purchased explosives...

he wasn't arrested, so he must have had the proper liscenses to buy them.

just wondering, is that a million Americans on the watch list.