The New York Daily News had a colorful headline today accusing the National Rifle Association (NRA) of conducting a "sick jihad" for opposition to a proposed law, one the News asserts they are to blame for not passing, that would give the Attorney General carte blanche to deny both federal firearms dealer licenses and the ability to legally buy a weapon to pretty much anyone he chooses, under the rubric of those who give "material support" to terrorism and whom she believes is a threat.
The Daily News's pants-wetting coverage, in part:
The NRA — and their gun-loving Republican cohorts — are refusing once more to stop terrorists intent on getting armed in the U.S.A.
A legal loophole allows suspected terrorists on the government's no-fly list to legally buy guns, but a bill to fix that will likely wither on the vine. The federal Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act, even in the wake of last week's terrorist killing of 129 people in Paris, remains a long shot due to its rabid pro-gun opponents….
While the bill remained a nonstarter, more than 2,000 suspects on the FBI's Terrorist Watchlist bought weapons in the U.S. over the last 11 years, according to the federal Government Accountability Office.
Here's the text of the law, excerpts:
GRANTING THE ATTORNEY GENERAL THE AUTHORITY TO DENY THE SALE, DELIVERY, OR TRANSFER OF A FIREARM OR THE ISSUANCE OF A FIREARMS OR EXPLOSIVES LICENSE OR PERMIT TO DANGEROUS TERRORISTS….
"The Attorney General may deny the transfer of a firearm pursuant to section 922(t)(1)(B)(ii) if the Attorney General determines that the transferee is known (or appropriately suspected) to be or have been engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism, or providing material support thereof, and the Attorney General has a reasonable belief that the prospective transferee may use a firearm in connection with terrorism.";
Yes, it has the words "reasonable belief," but for some constitutionalists that might not be reassuring enough. Leaving the politics of the NRA out of it, it could be that principled people for reasons other than a bloody desire to facilitate mayhem might object to giving the A.G. arbitrary power to declare anyone ineligible for a core constitutional right (the Second Amendment) connected to a core human right (self-defense).
See some previous Reason reporting on how far that "material support" idea can be stretched, including making journalist Carl Bernstein a material supporter and thus subject to restrictions and punishments under law for giving a speech, and Harvey Silverglate's take on the dangers of vague statutes.
The activists challenging the statute feared prosecution for encouraging the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, both of which appear on the State Department's list, to pursue their goals through nonviolent means. As described by the district court, the plaintiffs wanted to "train members of [the] PKK on how to use humanitarian and international law to peacefully resolve disputes," "engage in political advocacy on behalf of Kurds who live in Turkey," "teach PKK members how to petition various representative bodies such as the United Nations for relief," and "engage in political advocacy on behalf of Tamils who live in Sri Lanka." The Supreme Court's ruling (PDF) says the activists were correct to worry that such projects, though speech aimed at promoting lawful activities, would be considered "material support," which includes the broad categories of "training," "expert advice or assistance," "personnel," and "service." But in the view of six justices, this restriction on freedom of speech is justified as part of the fight against terrorism.
One might think a newspaper could recognize the problems in this here constitutional republic with giving one unelected executive branch member the power to pretty arbitrarily deny rights to whoever, for what can be the vaguest of reasons. But people who think that don't, clearly, actually consider the Second Amendment any right worthy of respect.
UPDATE: Hadn't seen this before writing the original post, but this issue of passing this law to empower the A.G. is more than just a Daily News dumb headline bugaboo, but a key part of the Democrats' planned post-Paris legislative stategy, reports Politico.
And presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton tweets in support of the Daily News.