it will come as no great surprise that the NRA, and some of their Republican errand boys are now defending the rights of terrorists to buy guns and even explosives. Even in the wake of the attempted Times Square bombing, we have conservative Republicans like Senator Lindsay Graham prattling on about how the lofty principles they ascribe to the second amendment are somehow more compelling than the safety and security of Americans on our own soil.
To be fair, not all Republicans have shrugged off concerns about terrorists legally purchasing weapons. Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) has testified in favor of legislation he is co-sponsoring with Sen Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) to close the “terror gap.” There are a few Republican mayors spinkled among the 500+ mayors supporting the restrictions. Heck, even the Bush administration supported restrictions, which were blocked by NRA lobbying and their (mostly) Republican supporters in congress.
The NRA’s defense of terrorist gun rights is underscored, as you might guess, by the usual “slippery slope” argument. You know, the one about how the mere mention of gun control will lead us inexorably toward a dictatorial confiscation of all firearms to pave the way for our incoming communist masters. It seems crazy to imply that this paranoia should trump legitimate concerns about suspected terrorists buying arms and explosives willy-nilly.
A recent Government Accountability Office report revealed that persons listed on the terrorist watch list have purchased firearms and explosives from licensed U.S. dealers on more than a thousand occasions over the past six years, and quite legally. As William Branigan reported in the Washington Post,
According to the GAO report released Wednesday, FBI data show that individuals on the government’s terrorist watch list were involved in firearms or explosives background checks 1,228 times from February 2004 through February 2010. Of those transactions, 1,119, or about 91 percent, “were allowed to proceed because no prohibiting information was found — such as felony convictions, illegal immigrant status, or other disqualifying factors,” the GAO’s Eileen R. Larence said in prepared testimony.
She said the 1,228 transactions involved about 650 individuals, of whom about 450 engaged in multiple transactions and six were involved in 10 or more.
From March 2009 through February 2010, Larence said, 272 background checks yielded matches to persons on the terrorist watch list, one of whom was purchasing explosives. Several others were listed not only in the FBI’s Known or Suspected Terrorist File but were also on the Transportation Security Administration’s no-fly list, she said…”According to FBI officials, all of these transactions were allowed to proceed because the background checks revealed no prohibiting information under current law,” Larence testified.
Do the Dems have an opening here? I think so. An Ipsos/McClatchy Poll conducted 1/ 7-11 found that 51 percent of respondents agreed generally that it’s “necessary to give up some liberties in order to make the country safe from terrorism.” A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll conducted 6/4-5, 2008, found 88 percent supporting reforms “Preventing certain people, such as convicted felons or people with mental health problems, from owning guns.” I would thus be very surprised if a strong majority of Americans would not support some reasonable weapons purchasing restrictions on suspected terrorists.
UPDATE: A poll by The Word Doctors (Republican strategist Frank Luntz’s outfit), conducted 11/25-12/2 on behalf of Mayors Against Illegal Guns found that a stunning 82 percent of NRA members supported “a proposal prohibiting people on the terrorist watch list from purchasing guns,” with only 9 percent of NRA members opposing the proposal. Clearly, the NRA leadership is very much at odds with its rank and file membership on this issue. (Thanks to Ladd Everitt of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence for flagging the poll)
Polls do show that the GOP has a small edge in public confidence regarding which party can fight terrorism most effectively. Democratic solidarity for reasonable restrictions on suspected terrorists could help level public opinion on national security concerns respecting the two parties — and just might prevent a great tragedy.