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JOHN ASHCROFT, GUN PURCHASE CHECKS & TERRORISM

We Will Try You and Execute You in Secret, But Don't Worry, We Won't Check Your Gun Purchase Records

The "gun-rights exception to the war on terrorism"

December 7, 2001

In the alternative reality that Attorney General John Ashcroft obviously inhabits, he thinks it's okay to

  • kidnap a citizen of another country
  • bring him to the United States
  • listen in on his conversations with his lawyer
  • try him in secret before military officers
  • convict him with no right of appeal, and then
  • execute him in secret

-- but while doing all these things, we are not allowed to check that individual's gun purchase records!  The reason?  Doing so would be a violation of that person's right of privacy!

As reported in The New York Times, the Justice Department

has refused to let the F.B.I. check its records to determine whether any of the 1,200 people detained after the Sept. 11 attacks had bought guns...

[T]he request was rejected after several senior officials decided that the law creating the background check system did not permit the use of the records to investigate individuals.

Without getting into the gory details, Ashcroft is pushing a narrow interpretation of the applicable regulations:

"It is like there is a gun-rights exception to the war on terrorism," said Mathew Nosanchuk, litigation director for the Violence Policy Center, a gun control group in Washington. Mr. Nosanchuk was a Justice Department lawyer in the Clinton administration who helped to write many of the gun-records regulations...

Mr. Nosanchuk said, "A fair interpretation is that if there is a terrorist act, and that if you have a basis to think a person was in a prohibited category, it would be O.K. for law enforcement to check the records to see if a person purchased a gun."

Might Ashcroft and Bush's fanaticism about gun ownership have anything to do with their position?  Larry Todd, who is the police chief of Los Gatos, California and a member of the firearms committee of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, thinks so:

"This is absurd and unconscionable. The decision has no rational basis in public safety.

"It sounds to me like it was made for narrow political reasons based on a right-to-bear-arms mentality," he said. "If someone is under investigation for a terrorist act, all the records we have in this country should be checked, including whether they bought firearms."

There are those who would say, give Ashcroft a break, his pro-gun philosophy has nothing to do with this, he's just interpreting the law as he sees it honestly, and he'd jump at the chance to be able to check those gun purchase records of foreign terrorists.  Unfortunately, Ashcroft's recent testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee dispels that idea.  This is an exchange with Senator Edward Kennedy (Dem-MA), who is asking the questions:

Q. Last month, a manual entitled, "How Can I Train Myself for Jihad" it's a manual very similar to the one that you mentioned here was found in a terrorist safe house in Kabul. And it states, "In other countries, some states of U.S., it is perfectly legal for members of the public to own certain types of firearms. If you live in such a country, obtain an assault weapon legally prefer AK-47 or variations learn how to use it properly, and go and practice in the areas allowed for training."

...We have been trying to deal with this problem for many months; potential terrorists can walk into a gun show, walk out with a gun, no questions asked.

The report in today's New York Times that officials at the Department of Justice refused to let the F.B.I. examine its background checklist to determine whether any of the 1,200 people detained following the Sept. 11 attacks recently bought guns why is the department handcuffing the F.B.I. in its efforts to investigate gun purchases by suspected terrorists?

A. The answer is simple: The law which provided for the development of the N.I.C., the National Instant Check system, indicates that the only permissible use for the National Instant Check system is to audit the maintenance of that system. And the Department of Justice is committed to following the law in that respect. And when

Q. Do you think it ought to be changed?

A. When the request first came, obviously the instinct of the F.B.I. was to use the information to see. When they were advised by those who monitor whether or not we are following the congressional direction, we stopped. And I believe we did the right thing in observing what the law of the United States compels us to observe. The list

Q. Do you think it ought to be changed in that provision? The F.B.I. obviously wants that power in order to try to deal with the problems of terrorism. Do you support it?

A. I won't comment on specific legislation in the hypothetical.

Q. But would you submit legislation to do what the F.B.I. wants to have done? Would you work with the F.B.I. and submit legislation to deal with this?

A. I will be happy to consider any legislation that you would propose.

Talk about double-talk and trying to avoid saying "No, I'm not going to do anything to get this law changed."

In this same hearing, Ashcroft made headlines with his neo-red-baiting statement attacking those who criticize his policies:

To those who pit Americans against immigrants and citizens against noncitizens, to those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies, and pause to America's friends. [emphasis added]

It's bad enough when the Bush administration tries to use an alleged benefit to the war on terrorism to push through all its favorite pre-9/11 policy initiatives: e.g., drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, repeal of the corporate alternative minimum tax and accompanying multi-billion-dollar rebate to corporations of all such taxes paid in the last 15 years.  But at least this cynical use of the 9/11 tragedy doesn't directly impede the terrorism investigations.

But for Ashcroft, Bush et al to put their pro-gun fanaticism ahead of the need to protect this nation -- well, that seems like something that would "aid terrorists" and "give ammunition [literally!] to America's enemies."

This was a selection from The Daily Diatribe

More on John Ashcroft

More on War on Terrorism

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