Political Animal


May 14, 2011 9:50 AM Terror suspects can’t buy plane tickets, but can buy guns

By Steve Benen

About a year ago, several congressional Democrats pushed a measure that seemed pretty reasonable. If you’re on the FBI terror watch list, you should be ineligible to buy weapons in the U.S. Law enforcement has long supported the proposal, but Congress keeps rejecting it. Last year was no different — the NRA told lawmakers to kill the bill, and they did as they were told.

This week, the effort died again in the House.

Republicans on the House Judiciary panel shot down a proposal Thursday to prevent weapon sales to suspected terrorists.

In a party-line vote of 21-11, the committee Republicans killed an amendment from Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) that would have blocked firearm purchases by those on the FBI’s terrorist watch list. The vote came during the markup of legislation renewing certain provisions of the Patriot Act that are slated to expire later this month.

Quigley accused the Republicans of limiting certain civil liberties for the sake of fighting terrorism in the underlying Patriot Act bill, but refusing to restrict Second Amendment rights for the same purpose.

And that seems like a more than fair point. The Republican line when it comes to suspected terrorists is that rights are a luxury we cannot afford. Miranda? Don’t bother. Due process? That’s pre-9/11 thinking. GOP officials think nothing of empowering law enforcement to tap phones, read emails, and in some cases, even engage in torture, with little or no oversight.

But if you’re on the terrorist watch list and want to stock up on automatic rifles, conservative Republicans will do whatever it takes to make sure you can do just that.

As Gail Collins noted a while back, “There seems to be a strong sentiment in Congress that the only constitutional right suspected terrorists have is the right to bear arms.”

In fairness, I should note that the terrorist watch list is admittedly flawed. For that matter, we can have a reasonable discussion about whether the proposal would be as effective as proponents hope. Existing law prohibits gun sales to illegal immigrants, felons, the severely mentally ill, and those convicted of domestic violence, but some of these folks have been known to get guns anyway.

But GOP lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee still said Second Amendment rights are paramount here.

We’re left with a remarkable conservative line: if you’re a suspected terrorist, Republicans don’t want you to be able to buy an airplane ticket, but they’re comfortable with you being able to buy loaded firearms.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • DK on May 14, 2011 9:57 AM:

    This has struck me as a weak spot in our anti-terror efforts for years. Just look at the kind of panic created by just one sniper in Maryland, John Allen Muhammad. Imagine Al Qaeda sending over 20 or 30 trained snipers.

  • c u n d gulag on May 14, 2011 10:01 AM:

    So, if you're on the "No Fly" or the coming 'No Choo-choo" list and you're held up and miss an event, or have to find some other way to get there because you're refused, that's ok.

    But you can't have a "No Weapons" list because it might infringe on your right to run out, buy a gun, and shoot the MFer who took the parking spot you wanted at the mall.

    'The things these people think are precious I can't understand...'

  • Texas Aggie on May 14, 2011 10:02 AM:

    "if you're a suspected terrorist ... they’re comfortable with you being able to buy loaded firearms."

    Well, yeah. And you expected anything different?! These are republicans we're talking about. Take away the rights of terrorists to own guns, and how many of their supporters will all of a sudden find themselves gunless? The republicans in congress, especially the TP's, are well aware that the typical terrorist is a home grown, right wing religious nutcase straight out of the bible belt with feelings of being picked on because of his/her inadequacies, not some recent immigrant from the Middle East.

  • kevo on May 14, 2011 10:10 AM:

    Mental fantasies held by men with guns is an elixir of insanity!

    I ask, will the Republican members of Congress open their video libraries up to us so we can see just how many John Wayne movies they have in their collections? I don't think they'd ever do it, perhaps because of all that porn they'd have to fess up to! -Kevo

  • Rich2506 on May 14, 2011 10:26 AM:

    I've always felt that judges of a certain level of authority should be able to get people off of terrorist watch lists. Obviously, intelligence agencies get one on in the first place, but if a person is willing to come to a US court room and give testimony before a judge, the judge should have sufficient access to the intelligence agencies so that he or she can represent the person and get them taken off of the watch list.
    There have simply been far too many cases where some 11-year old child has the same name as a wanted terrorist and his whole family has to be delayed each time they want to fly somewhere.

  • bob h on May 14, 2011 10:27 AM:

    If you are a Muslim aggreived by bin Laden's killing, Congress has ensured that all you need do to get revenge is get an assault rifle from a gun show, go to a bus terminal or shopping mall and blast away. And Republicans will blame Obama for the attack.

  • Michael on May 14, 2011 2:47 PM:

    So the GOP's favorite slogan is, "You can't fly a plane but you can use a .50 caliber to shoot it down"..?

  • DW on May 14, 2011 3:19 PM:

    I can understand where the NRA is coming from on this one though I don't necessarily agree with them on it(or a number of their other positions). They are indirectly saying that if this law were only going to be affecting foreigners and muslims, they could probably stand behind it and allow their short-leash politicians to pass it. Except that the no-fly list and list of suspected terrorists more than likely includes some good ol' boys and militia types (you know, white people) and if just one of them is denied their right to purchase a firearm, then that is an offense against the 2nd amendment(or something) and the start of the downfall of America.

    I also think Steve meant to say in his post "semi-automatic" weapons, as nobody can just go and "buy" a fully automatic machine gun or pistol(unless they're buying an illegal gun, though you're probably already a criminal if you know where to buy one). It is legal to buy and own one one, but you can only purchase a weapon that was in the NFA Registry prior to when the feds closed it in 1986(nothing new, and as these guns are used to the point where they can't be repaired anymore, that is one less machine gun left available for transfer in the registry). To even purchase one of the guns that are for sale at any one time you have jump through the hoops of ATF approval which involves getting a sign off from the local Sheriff or Police Chief, both of which in my area refuse to do so for anybody that is not in law enforcement. Any semi-automatic pistol or rifle on the other hand, can be bought if you pass a background check, and you are in a state with no waiting period. I think it's ludicrous that someone who can't fly on a plane can go stock up their arsenal. In the extremely rare instance that some John Q Public can't go buy a pistol because he is mistakenly on one of these lists, well I think we need some kind of remedy to remove these erroneous citizens from the watch lists, but this is a matter entirely separate from just the issue of gun purchases.

  • jsjiowa on May 14, 2011 5:46 PM:

    I can't help but think: wouldn't it be the heighth of irony if someone on the no-fly list showed up at an NRA convention with a semi-automatic weapon, and fired at the crowd? But that probably wouldn't even be enough to change their position, on what seems like a matter of common sense to the rest of us.

  • exlibra on May 14, 2011 8:08 PM:

    [...] if you’re a suspected terrorist, Republicans don’t want you to be able to buy an airplane ticket [...] -- Steve Benen

    I'm not sure that's correct; I think it's a "No Fly" list, not a "No Buy" one. I think they'll let you buy the ticket but stop you from getting onto the plane. And you won't get a refund, either, even if it's proven that you've been put on the No Fly list by a ghastly mistake - the airlines are people too, and have to make a living.

    Second option provided by Captcha is the one that wins acceptance, as being relevant to the thread: "ssentor 347" Senators (and representatives) have no common Sense, when it comes to flying on 374.

  • steverino on May 14, 2011 9:24 PM:

    ...they�re comfortable with you being able to buy loaded firearms.

    No, you can't buy loaded firearms: you have to buy the ammunition separately. Well I remember buying my first pistol, in Florida in the late 80's: I needed the whole kit. I had a pistol, the cleaning supplies, and ammo, and aside from signing an "I'm not nuts or a felon" form, the only precaution taken was to verify my credit card accepted the charge before they handed the whole kaboodle to me.

  • mfw13 on May 14, 2011 9:25 PM:

    So why aren't the Dems running ads nationwide stating that the GOP supports allowing terrorists to buy guns?