Proving once again that the Second Amendment is first among equals for conservatives, the Republican majority on the House Appropriations Committee (along with two Democrats) voted to reaffirm the right of people suspected of being tied to terrorism to purchase guns yesterday evening. New York Democrat Nita Lowey's amendment to a criminal justice funding bill would allow the Justice Department to stop firearm purchases made by people on the FBI's terrorist watch list, but the bill was rejected 19-29.
The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence said they were "deeply disappointed" by the vote, while Democrats said “terrorists are knowingly exploiting our laws." Indeed, the government currently can't stop suspected terrorists of buying guns and an al-Qaida spokesperson even suggested wannabe jihadis "go down to a gun show at a local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle, without a background check." The Government Accountability Office found that over a six-year period, people on the watch list tried to purchase guns on 1,228 occasions -- and were approved 91 percent of the time.
Still, there are lots of problems with the watch list from a civil libertarian perspective. People on the list have generally not been convicted or even charged of any terrorism-related charges and yet are punished; The list is often inaccurate and over-broad (people like to say Ted Kennedy was even on it, but that was a different list); And it's entirely untransparent -- people on the list don't even know they're on it -- so Republicans are on solid ground in rejecting legislation to strip people of their constitutional rights without a trial.
Or at least they would be if they didn't also support stripping those same people of every other constitutional right that doesn't involve buying guns. Because, the GOP seems to think that while the Second Amendment is sacrosanct, even for suspected terrorists, the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth and Ninth Amendments are obstacles to justice to be destroyed.
Take Republican Rep. Hal Rogers. He chairs the House Appropriations Committee and voted against Lowey's amendment. But after the Christmas Day bombing plot a few years ago, Rogers issued a press release titled "Terrorists Should Not Be Given Constitutional Rights." “I am outraged that we are giving terrorists who seek to destroy our nation the same rights as American citizens,” Rogers said. "I see no reason why we should afford our enemies the same constitutional rights as American citizens or the same due process as criminal defendants. We should not be risking the security of our nation to make a political statement.”
Or take Rep. Frank Wolf, a senior Republican on the committee. He sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder urging a suspected terrorist be kept at Guantánamo Bay and not be brought to Washington, D.C., for a federal trial. Doing so would be "treating them better than a young American serviceman or woman who serves in the military," who are generally tried in military court, he said.
Or take Rep. Tom Cole, another GOP member of the committee, who said in 2008 that it would be "just nuts" to allow "detained, enemy combatants to apply for writs of habeas corpus." (The Supreme Court disagreed with him that year.)
Meanwhile, the NRA says legislation like Lowey's could be used to target “Americans who disagree with the policies of the Obama Administration,” “who believe in federalism,” or simply “who post their political opinions on the Internet.” And since the NRA opposes it, it's not surprising that most other Republicans do as well. The late Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg championed a bill to close what he called the "terror gap," but it was rejected every time he brought it up.
After the Boston Marathon bombing, Sen. Lindsey Graham slammed the Obama administration for prosecuting Dzhokhar Tsarnaev -- an American citizen -- in federal court instead of stripping him of Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights by giving him a military tribunal. At a press conference on the topic, Graham was asked about suspected terrorists' rights when it came to the Second Amendment. "I think, anyone who’s on the Terrorist Watch List should not lose their Second Amendment right," he replied.
However, the Appropriations Committee did succeed in passing an amendment “to block the ATF from continuing to require the reporting of purchases of multiple firearms in border states.” Many of the guns used in Mexico's bloody drug war come from American stores in border states.
So, once again, the only right that Republicans think suspected terrorists should enjoy is the right to arm themselves, because what could possibly go wrong with that?