Despite their patriotic-sounding name—the “Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2009”—H.R. 2159 by Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) and S. 1317 by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) aren’t intended to contribute to the war on terrorism. Instead, they’re intended to give the executive branch of the federal government the arbitrary power to stop loyal Americans from exercising their constitutionally-protected right to keep and bear arms. The true purpose of the bills comes as no surprise, since King, Lautenberg and co-sponsors Reps. 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.), and Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) are longtime supporters of gun control.
H.R. 2159 and S. 1317 would give an 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.”
However, the bills would not 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.” They instead propose 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 the bills propose 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. The bills 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 upon no information whatsoever.
H.R. 2159’s and S. 1317’s potential for abuse is obvious. A 2009 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 A.C.L.U.2 Even the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), perhaps the most widely recognized member of Congress since the watchlist was created, was on the list. And, the bills follow a disturbing Department of Homeland Security report characterizing gun owners and military veterans as “rightwing extremists,”3 and Attorney General Eric Holder’s endorsement of new gun control restrictions.
1. “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.