I complain about the lack of bipartisan cooperation in Congress, but this is not what I was looking for. The group Vet Voice, led by progressive Jon Soltz, is putting pressure on Congress to pass a bill introduced by Rep. Pete King (R-NY) and Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) to prohibit people who are on the FBI’s terrorist watch list from purchasing guns.
While it may sound like common sense to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists, the problem with this law is the terrorism watch list itself. Back in 2008, there were over a million people on the list, and it was growing by an average of 20,000 names a month.
It doesn’t take much to get on the list, as evidenced by some of the people who found themselves on it (and often couldn’t get themselves off), including several US Senators and Congresspersons, airline pilots, active members of the US military, children (including an 11-month-old), winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, presidents of foreign countries, and non-terrorists the government doesn’t like (employees of the ACLU, and singer Cat Stevens), and even people with common names like Gary Smith, Robert Johnson, John Williams, and David Nelson.
And this law is not even necessary. An estimated 95% of people on the list are already prohibited from buying guns. When it processes background checks, the FBI does know if someone is on the terrorist watch list, and can investigate further. But this law wants to make merely being on the list a reason to fail the background check.
For example, someone could get on the terrorism list because they participate in a peaceful protest event (say, for the Tea Party or the Occupy Wall Street movement), and suddenly have their rights taken away, without them even knowing it happened. Even worse, if you are already a gun owner and then somehow get put on the terrorist watch list, you could be subject to a 10 year prison sentence.
When the government can start making arbitrary lists of people it suspects of something, and then start denying them their constitutional rights without even the slightest judicial review, then something is terribly wrong.