Washington Matters


Gun Power Run Amok


So let me see if I have this right.  If you're on the FBI's terrorist watch list, you can't get on an airplane. But if you want to buy an assault rifle? Hey, no problem. At the risk of riling every supporter of the 2nd Amendment, this is ridiculous.

Congress's research arm, the Government Accountability Office, has just completed a report showing hundreds of people named on the government's terrorism watch list have successfully purchased firearms in the past five years. In fact, GAO found 865 purchases went through out of 963 attempts. And in the 98 times when the attempted buys were stopped, it was because the person was a known felon, not because he was on the watch list.

This is not a case of sloppy implementation; it's a case of intended policy. Gun rights advocates, led primarily by the National Rifle Association, have pressured Congress to allow sales to those on the watch list on the grounds that the list is less than perfect. Chris W. Cox, the chief lobbyist for the NRA, had the gall to cite a Justice Department report showing that 24,000 of the 400,000 people on the watch list -- about 6% -- were included by mistake, usually on the basis of outdated information. These "law abiding Americans should not be treated as terrorists," Cox claims. Well, that's akin to pointing out that some innocent people are sent to prison for crimes they didn't commit and using that to argue that no one should be locked up until we can assure 100% accuracy on the part of the legal system.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat from New Jersey, stated the obvious when he said the current law "simply defies common sense." He was also stating the obvious when he said the "special interest gun lobby has so twisted our nation's laws that the rights of terrorists are placed above the safety of everyday Americans." There is some irony in that the same people who would block tougher gun laws object that the Obama administration, by banning torture, is putting the rights of suspected terrorists over the safety of Americans.

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The fact is that the gun lobby stops at almost nothing to block any kind of gun control law, insisting it is the first step toward taking guns away from all Americans. This is ridiculous -- as ridiculous as the gun advocate Internet campaign -- scaring Americans into believing that Obama has a secret plan for seizing all guns. That campaign has led to a huge burst in gun sales throughout the U.S. Never mind that Obama has no such plan. In fact, the president has infuriated gun control advocates for not even pushing to reinstate the ban on assault weapons that he promised in his campaign.

The 2nd Amendment is an important part of the Constitution and no elected official wants -- or would be allowed -- to do away with it. But it doesn't mean there can't be some reasonable controls. I don't necessarily link the extreme gun advocacy with the crazies who have recently used guns to pursue their hate, though some commentators make a strong case for that. But some steps obviously seem necessary, and given the recent rise in violence and hate crimes, there's no time to waste. Unfortunately, that requires Congress standing up to the NRA and others, and right now, there's almost no chance of that happening. So the first step has to come from Obama, who has yet to show the necessary leadership. Kind of ironic when you think of all the flak he's drawing from the gun crowd just the same.




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