Why NRA Opposes Gun Control Supporters` "Terrorist Watchlist" Bills

Posted on April 19, 2011

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Some believe that S. 34 (Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.) and H.R.1506 (Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y.) are intended to prevent “terrorists” from buying guns. Here’s what the bills really propose:

  • That a person who is not otherwise prohibited from buying a firearm, and who therefore would otherwise pass a National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) check, could still be prohibited from acquiring a firearm if he is on the FBI’s watchlist.
  • That once a person is told that he is on the watchlist, he would be subject to a 10-year prison sentence for a gun already possessed, even if he has been placed on the watchlist by mistake, or for a minor or unsubstantiated reason.
  • That a person who goes to court to challenge his placement on the watchlist would not be informed of the specific suspicions or allegations upon which his watchlisting is based.
  • That the person’s challenge to his watchlisting would be decided by a judge, not a jury.
  • That the judge would not be allowed to consider all of the available evidence.

Objections to the Bills

  • As the name suggests, the “watchlist” is not limited to people guilty of “terrorism”1 or who are suspected of other acts serious enough to warrant their arrest. It broadly includes people “known or reasonably suspected to be or have been engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism,”2 including those only “being preliminarily investigated to determine whether they have links to terrorism” and those “for whom the FBI does not have an open terrorism investigation.”3
  • A person accused of serious wrongdoing has the right to know what he has been accused of, to offer evidence in his defense, and to be judged by a jury. A constitutionally protected right cannot be taken away on the basis of a secretive or unsubstantiated accusation. A judge should be allowed to consider evidence which may support the innocence of the accused.
  • S. 34 and H.R. 1506 are aimed primarily at law-abiding American gun owners. Ninety-five percent of watchlisted persons are already prohibited from acquiring firearms in the U.S., because they are not U.S. citizens or legal resident aliens. (See below.)
  • NICS already checks the relevant portion of the watchlist, and denies firearms to watchlisted persons who are prohibited from possessing firearms. Tellingly, S. 34’s and H.R. 1506’s sponsors could not name a single gun crime committed by a watchlisted person who purchased a firearm after passing a NICS check. (See below.)
  • As D.C.’s and Chicago’s handgun bans have proven, prohibiting the possession of firearms doesn’t stop criminals from illegally acquiring them.
  • There would be an enormous potential for abuse, if the FBI were given arbitrary power over a constitutionally-protected right. This would be true even if the FBI had an unblemished record where civil rights are concerned.

The troubling DHS-FBI “rightwing extremism” report4
There’s a concern that the FBI might watchlist a person as a “suspected terrorist” on dubious grounds. In 2009, the Department of Homeland Security, in coordination with the FBI, said that “rightwing extremists” prone to “confrontations” with “government authorities” could include:

  • Americans who have fought in the Global War on Terrorism;
  • Americans who are concerned about issues such as abortion, immigration, the economy, our loss of jobs overseas, including the loss of America’s manufacturing base to China and India, the decline of our construction industry, and home foreclosures;
  • Americans who disagree with the policies of the Obama Administration and who encourage others to disagree with such policies, or who believe in federalism;
  • Americans who post their political opinions on the Internet;
  • Americans who oppose gun control and who, in anticipation of a new push for federal gun control, buy firearms and ammunition;
  • Americans who disagreed with the Brady Act and semi-automatic firearm ban, and the FBI’s and BATFE’s actions at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Texas, in the 1990s; and
  • Americans whose religious beliefs hold that there will occur a time of hardship accompanied by the rise of unscrupulous or evil political leaders.

95 percent of people on the watchlist are already prohibited from buying firearms
As of September 2008, there were about 420,000 persons on the watchlist.5 About 95 percent were already prohibited from buying firearms, because they were not U.S. citizens or legal resident aliens.6 The GAO has reported that only about 650 watchlisted persons sought 1,228 NICS checks between Feb. 2004 and Feb. 2010,7 and 11 percent of their checks were disapproved.8

Consider the source: S. 34 and H.R. 1506 are sponsored by gun control extremists

Lautenberg and King have voted to ban semi-automatic firearms and to drive gun shows out of business.9 Lautenberg’s S. 2820 during the previous Congress would have allowed the FBI to register gun owners by permanently retaining people’s approved NICS firearm transaction records. His current S. 35 would register gun owners by requiring those attending gun shows to sign ledgers handed over to the federal government. Demonstrating the depth of Lautenberg’s and King’s interest in stopping “terrorists” from buying guns, during Senate hearings on their bills last year they professed to be unaware that 95 percent of watchlisted persons already cannot buy guns legally, and unaware whether any crimes had been committed by the few watchlisted people who have purchased guns after a NICS check.10

1. Essentially, 18 USC 2331 defines “terrorism” as acts dangerous to human life, designed to coerce the civilian population or affect the policy of government.
2. FBI Terrorist Screening Center, “Frequently Asked Questions.”
3. Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, Audit Division, “The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Terrorist Watchlist Nomination Practices,” Executive Summary, May 2009.
4. DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis Assessment, Extremism and Radicalization Branch, Homeland Environment Threat Division, coordinated with the FBI, “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment,” April 7, 2009. After the report was strongly criticized, DHS pulled it from its website. However, it may be viewed here.
5. Note 3, p. ii, footnote 4, “The TSC estimated that, as of September 9, 2008, the total number of unique individuals on the watchlist was approximately 400,000.”
6. Source of the 95 percent figure: FBI Terrorist Screening Center, Watchlist Facts. Firearm prohibition law:18 USC 922(g). 18 USC 922(y)(2) provides exceptions for an alien with a nonimmigrant visa, for hunting and sports.
7. GAO, “Terrorist Watchlist Screening: The FBI Has Enhanced Its Use of Information from Firearm and Explosive Background Checks to Support Countereterrorism Efforts,” GAO-10-703T, May 5, 2010, p. 5.
8. NICS disapproves the purchase of a firearm by 10 categories of prohibited persons under 18 USC 922(g) and (n).
9. Lautenberg and King have NRA vote record ratings of F and D, respectively; 32 of their 35 co-sponsors are F-rated.
10. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, hearings on “Terrorists and Guns: The Nature of the Threat and Proposed Reforms,” May 5, 2010.
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