The Weird, Revealing Debate Over Letting Suspected Terrorists Buy Guns

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Photo: Richard Ellis/Getty Images

Two high-profile anti-terror proposals have been gained wide attention in the past couple of days in response to the attempted Times Square car bombing.

The first was Joe Lieberman's legislation to strip people suspected of ties to terror groups of their American citizenship, as determined by the State Department. Under his proposal, you, the suspected terrorist, would be able to appeal the decision in court, and the burden of proof would be on the State Department to prove your guilt. If you lose your appeal, you're no longer a citizen, and no longer have a claim to the rights previously afforded to you by the Constitution and hundreds of years of Supreme Court jurisprudence. And if you win your appeal, well, you have a fun little story to tell your friends.

The second is the legislation proposed by New Jersey senator Frank Lautenberg to prohibit suspected terrorists on the FBI's watch list from buying guns or explosives (as over 1,000 of them have done in the past six years). Mayor Bloomberg and Ray Kelly were down in Washington yesterday pleading for Congress to act on this bill. Like Lieberman's bill, it allows for an appeals process as well.

As an exercise to see which of these should be the more pressing change in our anti-terror policies, let's look at what would happen if neither law is enacted.

For those who have faith in America's criminal-justice system, the repercussions of allowing a terror-tied American citizen to retain his/her rights is hardly harrowing. As has been pointed out a million times recently, the system has had no trouble handling terrorism cases in the past. Just ask the Justice Department under George W. Bush — it secured over 350 terrorism-related convictions in civilian court. And constitutional guarantees haven't stopped either the underwear bomber or the Times Square bomber from cooperating with interrogators. In other words, allowing them to remain citizens just isn't that bad.

But the downside of letting the terror-inclined buy guns and explosives is ... that they will kill innocent people with their guns and explosives. That's what makes them terrorists. It's literally facilitating terrorism to not pass this law.

Amazingly though, while it remains to be seen what will happen with Lieberman's bill, the one about guns is going nowhere. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank shows us why with a snippet from yesterday's hearing:


"If society decides that these people are too dangerous to get on an airplane with other people, then it's probably appropriate to look very hard before you let them buy a gun," countered Bloomberg.

"But we're talking about a constitutional right here," [South Carolina's Lindsey] Graham went on. He then changed the subject, pretending the discussion was about a general ban on handguns. "The NRA — " he began, then rephrased. "Some people believe banning handguns is the right answer to the gun violence problem. I'm not in that camp."

In the end, see, it's all about staying true to the NRA Constitution. Only the important parts, though. The parts with powerful lobbies.

Terrorists who want to buy guns have friends on Capitol Hill [WP]
Congress, Up in Arms [NYT]