Guess who is opposing legislation in Congress to block people on the federal government’s terrorism watch list from buying guns and explosives?
The National Rifle Association and leading Republicans, that’s who.
In testimony before the Senate Homeland Security Committee, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly called on lawmakers to close a loophole that lets individuals on the federal government’s terrorism watch list buy firearms and explosives.
Bloomberg’s Capitol Hill appearance had been scheduled before last weekend’s failed attack, but the incident, in which Faisal Shahzad is alleged to have tried to detonate a crude car bomb in Times Square, gave the mayor’s cause a new urgency.
“The key element of any smart counterterrorism strategy is to make it harder for terrorists to strike,” Bloomberg said. “And that’s why it’s just common sense to give the FBI the authority to keep terror suspects from buying guns and explosives.”
Because of the so-called “terror gap,” the FBI has no authority to prevent individuals on the watch list from buying guns from licensed U.S. dealers unless they have a separate criminal record. Pointing to last weekend’s attempted bombing, Bloomberg and Kelly said it was imperative that Congress act quickly to change that.
“The problem I have is that [the] watch list, when you look at the numbers, has so many problems with it that I think it’s not appropriate to go down the road that we’re going because a constitutional right is involved,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Bloomberg during questioning.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) strongly opposes the proposed changes, claiming that the terrorism watch list is full of errors.
Andrew Arulanandam, NRA’s director of public affairs, pointed to the well-publicized 2004 incident in which the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) was temporarily prevented from boarding a flight because his name was mistakenly on the list.
“There are innocent people who are not terrorists whose names are on the list,” Arulanandam said in an interview. “It is wrong to deny law-abiding people a constitutional right if they are innocent.”
But Bloomberg claimed that national-security concerns take precedence over any Second Amendment arguments.
“Our Founding Fathers did not write the Second Amendment to empower people who wanted to terrorize a free state,” Bloomberg said.
As Gail Collins writes in The New York Times:
The subject of guns turns Congress into a twilight zone. People who are perfectly happy to let the government wiretap phones go nuts when the government wants to keep track of weapons permits. A guy who stands up in the House and defends the torture of terror suspects will nearly faint with horror at the prospect of depriving someone on the watch list of the right to purchase a pistol.
Graham wanted to make it clear that just because he doesn’t want to stop gun purchases by possible terrorists, that doesn’t mean he’s not tough on terror.
“I am all into national security. … I want to stop reading these guys their Miranda rights,” he said.
The Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing on “Terrorists and Guns: The Nature of the Threat and Proposed Reforms,” concerned a modest bill sponsored by Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey. It would allow the government to stop gun sales to people on the F.B.I. terror watch list the same way it does people who have felony convictions. Because Congress has repeatedly rejected this idea, 1,119 people on the watch list have been able to purchase weapons over the last six years. One of them bought 50 pounds of military grade explosives.
The terrorist watch list is huge, and some of the names on it are undoubtedly there in error. The bill would allow anyone denied the right to purchase a firearm an appeal process, but that would deprive the would-be purchaser some precious gun-owning time.