On April 29, U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, who calls himself "a strong supporter of the war against international terrorism, both at home and abroad," introduced H.R. 2159, calling it the "Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2009."
Given the bill's title, one might think that it's intended to affect terrorists. However, King and the bill's co-sponsors—Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), Mike Castle (R-Del.), Jim Moran (D-Va.), Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), Mark Kirk (D-Ill.), and Chris Smith (R-N.J.)—are extreme gun control supporters. Rather than being aimed at terrorists, H.R. 2159 is intended to give the executive branch arbitrary, unaccountable power to stop loyal Americans from acquiring firearms. Here's how:
- H.R. 2159 would give the attorney general "the authority to deny the sale, delivery, or transfer of a firearm or the issuance of a firearms or explosives license or permit to dangerous terrorists. . . . if the Attorney General determines that the transferee is known (or appropriately suspected) to be or have been engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism, or providing material support thereof, and the Attorney General has a reasonable belief that the prospective transferee may use a firearm in connection with terrorism."
- H.R. 2159 would not, however, impose requirements or limits on the kind of information an attorney general could use to make such a determination, nor establish a standard for "appropriate suspicion." It instead proposes that "any information which the Attorney General relied on for this determination may be withheld from the applicant if the Attorney General determines that disclosure of the information would likely compromise national security."
The scheme that H.R. 2159 proposes is unprecedented. Since 1968, federal law has established guidelines for all categories of persons prohibited from receiving and possessing firearms, and since 1994 has expressly protected a prohibited person's right to be told why he is prohibited. H.R. 2159 would establish no such standards, would provide no such protection, and would allow an attorney general to deny gun purchases based upon secret information, or no information whatsoever.
H.R. 2159's potential for abuse should be apparent. A recent Department of Justice report1 states that the FBI's terrorist watchlist doesn't include certain known terrorists, yet includes people who are not terrorists, the latter an on-going problem widely reported upon by the media and the American Civil Liberties Union.2 Even Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), perhaps the most widely recognized member of Congress, was placed on the list several years ago. Also, H.R. 2159 follows a disturbing Department of Homeland Security report characterizing gun owners and military veterans as "rightwing extremists,"3 and Attorney General Eric Holder's statements advocating new gun prohibitions and other restrictions.
H.R. 2159 isn't about making America safe from terrorists; it's about giving the federal government new, arbitrary authority to prohibit loyal Americans from exercising their constitutionally-protected right to keep and bear arms. Cloaking it in terms of "national security" doesn't change that fact.
1. Department of Homeland Security, "The Federal Bureau of Investigation's Terrorist Watchlist Nomination Practices," 5/2009.
2. USA Today, "Terrorist Watchlist Hits 1 Million," 3/10/2009; New York Times, "Sorry, Pal. You're Innocent, but You're Still on Our Lists," 08/25/08; Washington Post, "Terrorism Watch List is Faulted for Errors," 09/07/07; FoxNews.com, "Thousands Wrongly Listed on Terror Watch List," 10/7/2006; NewsMax, "FBI Terror Watchlist Poorly Updated, Maintained," 5/6/2009; ACLU, "Terror Watchlist Hits One Million Names," 7/14/2008.
3. "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment," 4/7/09. http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2009-03-10-watchlist_N.htm