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
- kidnap a citizen of
- bring him to the United
- listen in on his
conversations with his lawyer
- try him in secret before
- 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!
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
Without getting into the gory
details, Ashcroft is pushing a narrow interpretation of the applicable
"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
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
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?
Talk about double-talk and trying to avoid saying "No, I'm not going to
do anything to get this law changed."
A. I will be happy to
consider any legislation that you would propose.
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
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