NRA Announces Bizarrely Sane Position on Selling Guns to Terrorists

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Top Political Leaders Attend NRA Annual Meeting In Louisville
Gun buddies.Photo: Scott Olson/2016 Getty Images

Donald Trump is coming for your guns — if you’re a suspected terrorist, anyway. On Wednesday, the GOP nominee announced that he would push the NRA to support a ban on firearm sales to anyone on the terror watch list.

The gun-rights group quickly replied that it does not, in fact, love it when terrorists buy guns.

The executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, Chris W. Cox, elaborated on the group’s position in a written statement.

We are happy to meet with Donald Trump.  The NRA’s position on this issue has not changed.  The NRA believes that terrorists should not be allowed to purchase or possess firearms, period.  Anyone on a terror watchlist who tries to buy a gun should be thoroughly investigated by the FBI and the sale delayed while the investigation is ongoing.  If an investigation uncovers evidence of terrorist activity or involvement, the government should be allowed to immediately go to court, block the sale, and arrest the terrorist.  At the same time, due process protections should be put in place that allow law-abiding Americans who are wrongly put on a watchlist to be removed.  That has been the position of Sen. John Cornyn (R.-Tex.) and a majority of the U.S. Senate.  Sadly, President Obama and his allies would prefer to play politics with this issue.

Some progressive advocates of gun reform question the sincerity of the group’s statement.

But, at least superficially, the NRA appears to have taken a sensible position on the issue. While prohibiting suspected terrorists from accessing firearms might seem like a no-brainer, such legislation would ostensibly give the Executive branch the unilateral authority to revoke the constitutional rights of American citizens without due process. Remember, we are not talking about individuals who have been convicted of terrorism, but those merely identified as suspects, often on the basis of limited evidence. Last year, the Intercept published a 2013 document outlining the Obama administration’s criteria for labeling an individual a suspected terrorist. Those official guidelines stipulated that “concrete facts” weren’t required to make that designation. While one might trust President Obama to exercise that authority responsibly, the fact that Donald Trump has a better-than-zero chance of becoming our next president should alert progressives to the hazards of unchecked executive power.

All of which is to say, the NRA’s concern with due-process protections is reasonable. And delaying gun sales to those under investigation — without formally revoking their Second Amendment rights (as regrettably construed under District of Columbia v. Heller) — seems like a sound way of protecting public safety without establishing a legal precedent that undermines basic civil liberties.

That said, gun-reform advocates contend that the specific bill the NRA references in its statement is not a serious one. Everytown for Gun Safety president John Feinblatt writes in The Hill:

Cornyn’s proposal would require the Department of Justice to prove to a judge that a suspected terrorist has already committed or will actually commit an act of terrorism – a standard so high that it’s practically meaningless. And DOJ would have only 72 hours to do the nearly impossible. Otherwise, a potentially dangerous gun sale could proceed.

Regardless, Cornyn’s bill failed to pass the Senate when it was introduced last year.