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Nothing to Fear

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.



  1. Steve wrote:

    I always forget that you’re a firm believer in the Second Amendment, IK, even if this post is only really about protecting a procedural right (to due process) rather than the substantive right itself. Thanks for reminding me to stop pigeon-holing people I agree with as agreeing with me on absolutely all of my beliefs 🙂

    Monday, April 2, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Permalink
  2. Iron Knee wrote:

    Not quite, Steve. I’m a firm believer in the US constitution, even the parts I’m not personally fond of. I don’t own any guns and never will.

    It is the same thing with abortion. I’m not pro-abortion, but I’m pro-choice. In other words, the government equally has no business prohibiting people from getting abortions or from owning guns. And if someone wants to change either of those rights, they should get the constitution amended.

    Monday, April 2, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Permalink
  3. Arthanyel wrote:

    I agree with the point and being pro Constitution :-). I personally am a strong supporter of the right to bear arms because I was a police reservist and have seen first hand what happens when only the criminals have weapons. And I decided a long time ago that if I had to decide between sacrificing myself or my family so some perp could walk free, or sacrificing HIM so My family could, the choice was obvious.

    That said, the right to own a gun doesn’t mean I believe every drunk redneck should have an armory with no training. Guns are (or should be) a solemn responsibility, and we have erred too far on the side individuals on this issue. I think all gun owners should be licensed, tha thanks to the second amendment any citizen (not a criminal or a crazy) should have the right to have a license, but getting it requires passing rigorous tests that prove they can handle the responsibility.

    Monday, April 2, 2012 at 8:47 pm | Permalink
  4. PATRIOTSGT wrote:

    I agree with most of all three comments. I am pro constitution and pro choice, however with limitations like 1st trimester abortions unless a DR determines there is risk of death to the mother or an unviable fetus exists. Also, Arthanyel I agree there should be some mandatory gun safety courses just like is required for a hunting license. However when people start saying things like “passing rigorous tests” concerning a constitutional right, it would be not much different then requiring a rigorous test to determine if someone should be allowed to vote for example. I believe the government (local, state or federal) should not throw up a gaunlet of obstacles to any person attempting to excercise their constitutional rights.

    Tuesday, April 3, 2012 at 12:56 am | Permalink
  5. Iron Knee wrote:

    PSgt, we agree. You shouldn’t have to pass a test to exercise a constitutional right. On the other hand, some limits are reasonable (the same way that freedom of speech has limits).

    Tuesday, April 3, 2012 at 3:09 am | Permalink
  6. Steve wrote:

    I don’t think the fact that a right is contained in the US Constitution makes it *morally* any different from any other right which one might dream up. Politically of course it does make a big difference.

    That’s not to say that the rights contained the constitution are bad. Just that the fact of their inclusion in the US Constitution doesn’t of itself show that those rights ought to be supported. In the same way, just because a moral precept is in the Bible doesn’t mean to my secular mind that it ought to be supported, although plenty of Biblical moral propositions should be supported on other, better grounds.

    So why you would be a believer in the US Constitution, even the bits that you aren’t fond of, is beyond me. If the Constitution were written 50 years earlier or later, its contents would vary significantly. Would you still stand behind each proposition? If the constitution were 100 years older, there might be a constitutional doctrine of corporate personhood – would you still be pro-Constitution then?

    Of course I’m for freedom of expression and other such rights. But that’s because I think they’re fundamental to human dignity and flourishing, not because they’re written on a 250 year old piece of paper. I don’t think the right to bear arms is a necessary right for human prosperity or dignity, so despite it being a constitutional (in America) right, I don’t support it.

    This means, PSgt, that there is a massive gulf between requiring testing to vote and requiring testing to own a firearm. The first is related to the inherent dignity of each self-determining individual as an autonomous agent, and is fundamental to democratic government, while the second is related to law and order and keeping the Imperial British at bay, both goals that can be accomplished through other means.

    Tuesday, April 3, 2012 at 3:33 am | Permalink
  7. Arthanyel wrote:

    Psgt and IK – the difference between the right to own a gun and the right to vote is if you use your vote without proper training it is unlikely to cause great bodily injury or death to your fellow citizens. I completely support the Second Amendment – I just think that whenever any citizen has the right to use a tool that creates a deadly risk to others, it is not unreasonable to demand that they know how to use it properly. The standards we apply to licensing drivers are reasonable, and using the same approach for firearms is equally reasonable.

    Tuesday, April 3, 2012 at 8:03 am | Permalink
  8. PATRIOTSGT wrote:

    Arthanyel- I agree and would support all gun owners attending a fire-arm safety course, given by the gov’t. It protects the individual with the gun and everyone around them. I would just caution against using the word rigorous. I also think the FBI check is appropriate before issuing the license.
    Steve- I was going to agree, but then I tried rank organizing the rights myself to see which is more important then another and I realized that is way to open to personal interpretation to be fair. I decided that I’ll just keep all the rights equal to be fair.

    Tuesday, April 3, 2012 at 8:43 am | Permalink
  9. Iron Knee wrote:

    Steve, are you proposing that people only have to follow those parts of the constitution that they agree with? Seriously?

    If you don’t like the second amendment, you are free to work to get a new amendment to the constitution to remove it (just like we did with prohibition). The right to amend the constitution is what keeps it from just being “a 250 year old piece of paper”.

    Without the right to bear arms, we wouldn’t have a country in the first place, nor a constitution to be discussing here. We’d still be part of England (and I guess that means we would have health care!)

    Arthanyel, I dunno. People voted for Dubya, and it ended up causing “great bodily injury or death” to plenty of US citizens (in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention to the non-US citizens in those countries).

    Tuesday, April 3, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink
  10. Steve wrote:

    I think it’s important to distinguish moral propositions from political/legal propositions.

    IK, I said that *morally* it doesn’t make a difference whether a right is in the constitution or not – but politically (and it goes without saying, legally) it does.
    Practically, it’s best if everybody follows the same laws, even those which they don’t personally agree with. That doesn’t mean that the moral content of the laws has to be agreed with.

    The fact that a right is in the Constitution is by itself not a good reason to believe the right ought to exist. Any argument based on the idea that what *is* the law *ought to be* the law is suspect. The fact that it hasn’t been amended *out* of the Constitution is a better reason to support the right, because it tends to show popular democratic support for the right – but then, the reason for it not having been voted out is pretty much entirely political, not moral.

    I’m a citizen of a country that doesn’t enshrine the right to bear arms, but does have decent health care (not that the two are causally related). We have a Bill of Rights, though not as entrenched, supreme law, which reflects a modern on civic liberties – the right to possess weapons for the purpose of shooting other individuals is no part of it. ( It seems to be working OK.

    Tuesday, April 3, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Permalink
  11. Iron Knee wrote:

    Hey Steve! I lived in NZ for a little while. Loved it. I actually had to use the health care system there (twice) and was impressed. We could definitely learn from the kiwis.

    Tuesday, April 3, 2012 at 10:04 pm | Permalink
  12. Arthanyel wrote:

    IK – No single vote resulted in great bodily harm 🙂 The fact that the majority of voters were stupid enough to vote for Bush is unfortunate, but not directly injurious 🙂

    All kidding aside, the issue of rights and impacts is a sensitive issue. We have to weigh the impact of individual rights and freedoms against public rights and safety. The fact we’ve managed to achieve some reasonable balance between the two is laudable – it would be easy to say public safety trumps personal liberty.

    Wednesday, April 4, 2012 at 11:02 am | Permalink
  13. PATRIOTSGT wrote:

    Good point Arthanyel and not an easy choice sometimes. I personally think the gov’t uses the excuse of public safety to stomp on our individual rights a little too often, from the Patriot Act to the TSA and many other regs designed to change peoples behaviors by restricing their choices, which doesn’t really change their behaviors (nanny laws).

    Wednesday, April 4, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Permalink