In the wake of a Government Accountability Office report that 247 people on the FBI's terror watch list were permitted to purchase guns last year, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Chicago) proposed an amendment to the PATRIOT Act that would prevent anyone on a terror list from buying a firearm. Republicans on the House Judiciary Committe voted down Quigley's amendment yesterday, arguing "that restricting sales to people on the watch list would violate the Second Amendment rights of those placed on the list by mistake." After you get your jaw off the floor, read Quigley's justification for his amendment:
"Surely, we cannot look our constituents in the eye and tell them in good faith that we have decided to enact public policy that restrains some of their civil liberties for the greater good but that we refused to ask the same of suspected terrorists. I know we are smarter than that."
And then the testimony from Paul Helmke of the Brady Campaign:
"Osama bin Laden is dead, but the war on terror is far from over," Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said in a statement. "How can the Congress pretend to be serious about protecting the nation from terrorism, while voting to allow known terrorists to buy guns?"
Here's the problem with calling everyone on the FBI's watch list a "terrorist": Many of them aren't.
In May 2009, a report from the Inspector General for the Department of Justice found many records "for individuals who had originally been appropriately watchlisted but should have been removed from the watchlist after the case had been closed." On average, nearly two months passed between the time a person was cleared and when his or her name was removed from the watch list. "In one instance," the report reads, "we identified a former subject who remained watchlisted for nearly 5 years after the case had been closed." The report also found that some people were added to the watch list for specious reasons.
Six months after the IG's report came out, the Washington Post reported that the FBI added roughly 1,600 entries to its watch list and ordered the removal of 600 names every single day. At one point, the ACLU hypothesized that there were more than a million names on the FBI's list.
In an odd turn of events, the GOP seems more aware of these types of problems than they ever have, which explains why House leadership is having trouble whipping up the votes necessary for extending the PATRIOT Act fully entact. Democrats, meanwhile, want to use the bill to pass Trojan gun control laws.