Welcome to Common Gunsense

I hope this blog will provoke some thoughtful reflection about the issue of guns and gun violence. I am passionate about the issue and would love to change some misperceptions and the culture of gun violence in America by sharing with readers words, photos, videos and clips from articles to promote common sense about gun issues. Many of you will agree with me- some will not. I am only one person but one among many who think it's time to do something about this national problem. The views expressed by me in this blog do not represent any group with which I am associated but are rather my own personal opinions and thoughts.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Terror gap for gun sales

After I wrote my last post, there were a lot of responses regarding terrorists and guns. We have gone over this one many times before but we seem to have to revisit issues since what I say in my posts are either not clear or not believable to the gun rights activists. For some of you, what I am saying is just never what you want to read and always wrong. So let's talk a little about my latest post about patriots and guns. It had to do with the talk coming from the far right, particularly Glenn Beck, telling people to arm themselves against their own government. And we certainly have examples of "home grown terrorists" who do just that and sometimes put their crazed ideas into action. We have the example of Major Nidal Hasan who took a gun into Fort Hood and shot 13 people to death and wounded 29 others.  We have the example of attacks on U.S. military bases here and abroad and the recent arrests in Seattle of two men who planned attacks on U.S. military bases. And this recent arrest of a Marine showing bizarre behavior at Arlington National Cemetery leading to the discovery  that he was responsible for the shootings at a number of American military bases last year. These shootings at Military bases show a complicated mix of current and former military members and potential citizen terrorists involved in either acts of terrorism or showing manifestations of mental illness; there also seems to be a desire to do damage to the military as a symbol of our country and  frustration with U.S. military actions. This quote ( from President Obama's speech at the memorial service for the shooting victims) is from the Time magazine article about the Fort Hood shooting(see link above). It highlights the problem: " Our security is their life's work, he said, and peace is their legacy, and freedom their gift. To the great gray sea of soldiers that stood before him, the deaths were a hard reminder of the challenge of protecting all three at the same time."

In my latest blog, the comments that have led to a "discussion" about the gap in our national instant check background check system that allows terrorists to purchase guns, raised some interesting observations. It appears that gun rights activists would prefer to do nothing about this national security problem because it just "might" lead to  confiscation of their own guns or abridging of their own gun rights. Yes, we all understand that there are some names on this list of people that have been placed on the list in error. The problem can be cleared up and some names have been removed albeit with difficulty in some cases. The National Public Radio story linked above is a good discussion about the list. The reason this list was established in the first place was because it just seems like a good idea not to let people deemed to be "terrorists" fly on airplanes. 

Why did this happen? Well, of course, as we all know, terrorists used planes as their weapons of choice on September 11, 2001 to attack our country. So given that we know this is one form of chosen attack we reacted by trying to stop these folks from doing this again. Doesn't that make sense? Has it worked? Some who commented on my last post said it hadn't worked. It hadn't stopped some terrorists from flying or attempting attacks. They use the example of the "shoe bomber", for one, who made it through the screeners with explosives in his shoes. Luckily for all, he was stopped before another disaster occurred. Now we have to take off our shoes when we go through airport security. Has this stopped everyone from taking guns or weapons on planes? It would seem not. Here is an article sent by one of my commenters about the number of times guns get through the screening at airport security checks. This is a problem and I am the first to agree that we need to do a lot better than this to keep us all safe. I'm just happy that I am not the one to try to figure out what the terrorists will do next. It must be an almost daunting task to predict the actions of those whose mind set is to attack innocent citizens in countries around the world. But the fact remains that the United States has not had a terrorist attack from foreign operatives since September 11, 2001. Something must be working.

Should all of these things stop us from making sure people on the terror watch list can't legally buy guns from licensed gun dealers? No. So now what? I have asked the commenters what they would do better or differently. The NRA has so far failed to come up with a reason why we should not stop terrorists from buying guns. That is likely because they have no better way. Their constant answer is that it would take away the rights of law abiding citizens. Indeed, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has problems with the list and has filed a suit against the government for this very reason. Does the ACLU support terrorists legally buying guns in the U.S.? I doubt it. Their reason for filing a law suit is that some names on this list are those of perfectly innocent Americans and that it violates the privacy and the rights of those individuals. The more broad "Terrorist Watch List" has many more names than the "No Fly List" causing even more complications.

Read the comments on my previous post, linked above, to see how some gun rights activists would solve this national security problem. It would be a good idea to come up with something better than racial profiling or immediate arrest of these folks or searching homes without a warrant. How would this be more legal than stopping terrorists from buying guns? Oh, and by the way, I used the terrorist attacks in Mumbai as an example of how terrorists with guns can bring a major international city to it's knees for days. The answer to that, as written in comments to my post, is that those guns were not purchased within the country of India because it has such strict gun control laws. The guns came from another country or countries so that is why we shouldn't change our own gun laws to stop terrorists from getting guns legally? Pardon me if I find this to be bogus. If our own country strengthens its' gun background check system, where will those terrorists get their guns? Most other countries have pretty strict gun laws. Surely it would be harder for them to find the guns but there are admittedly so many guns in the illegal market that we can agree that there will still be guns available to terrorists. Does this mean we should make it easier for those terrorists to get their guns in America? 

One of my commenters was willing to concede that something needed to be done but he preferred a shorter list and wanted to assure that neither 2nd or 5th Amendment rights were abridged. That's a start. Here is what he proposed: "...we treat it the same as we do for violating the right to privacy (pre-Patriot act- I think that whole thing should go). If authorities believe someone to be involved in terrorist activities they gather the evidence they have and bring it to a judge who signs off on a search warrant or wire-tap (or in this case NICS denial) with an expiration period. This is a lower standard than making an arrest or a conviction, so we are still talking about terrorist *suspects*, but the judge still wants to see some evidence. They are not just going to let law enforcement do whatever they want. That is why the check has to be outside of law enforcement/DOJ office. If they are already investigating the suspect, it doesn’t even involve any more effort- short of additional paper work. This can be independent of whatever watchlist currently exists- though clearly if someone is under investigation they should be added to the list. I have mentioned the smaller “no-fly list” in the past, but only in the context of pointing out the misleading statements like “no-fly no buy” and “we let these people get on a plane but…”" 

 I am not in a position to make policy but I am willing to listen to common sense solutions to problems and blog about them. I don't know if this commenter's proposal would work or be any better than the current bills sitting in Congress. What I know for sure is that we have a problem that needs to be solved in order to preclude a potential terror attack on our country. It seems to me that reasonable people can agree to that and strive for the best solution. I have and will provide examples and information that highlight the problem and potential solutions. Who knows, maybe they will attract the attention of those who do make policy? 

No one wants their rights taken away. And most certainly, the gun guys don't want their gun rights taken away. It's not often that the NRA and the ACLU find themselves on the same side of an issue. So if someone on the said watch list wishes to purchase a gun legally and their name is flagged, that could be a problem, according to the gun lobby. But those on the list are not denied legally purchasing a gun. That is the problem. So yes, let's deal with the names on the list and make sure they are actually people who are deemed to be terrorists and would do our country harm. But let's not say that those people's gun rights are now violated. Far from it. Instead, these are people who actually have gun rights that most of them shouldn't have. That is why we need to change the system. 

If you think terrorists should be able to legally purchase guns, then you are against this common sense bill sponsored by Senator Frank Lautenberg, to change our background check system. There are provisions written into the bill for challenges by the person prohibited if an error was made. You can see a chart here showing how often someone on the terror watch list has actually legally purchased a gun from a licensed gun dealer in the U.S. Why is it not alarming that from 2004-2010, individuals on the terrorist watch list were involved in 1228 firearms and explosive background checks? Why is it not alarming that of those, 1119 transactions were allowed to proceed? Why would the gun lobby, given these numbers, oppose this bill? Given the chance to vote to close the terror gap, House Republicans in a Committee to vote on the Patriot act, voted in tandem against closing the gap. And even 82% of its' own members support efforts to stop known terrorists from being able to purchase guns. Let's get on with it and do what that the majority of Americans know is the right thing to do.


  1. I guess what bothers me the most about this list is you seem to have all ready convinced yourself that these people are terrorists. You have thrown out a trial and the right of the person to challenge their accuser.

    When one convicts these people before a trial even if only in ones mind I can see how it would be easy to decide that their rights should be stripped away.

  2. I believe there are reasons the people on the list were placed on the list. It is not just happenstance that someone's name is there. I wouldn't say that denying someone to buy a gun is convicting someone.

  3. There are some issues with this bill -- too much discretionary authority given to the Attorney General, for one. Also, a fairly low legal bar for upholding that discretionary determination by the AG (preponderance of the evidence is a 51% standard - used mostly in civil cases) - this is far too low a bar for abridging a constitutional right of a US citizen.

    I'd have to see these issues addressed before I could sign up to support this bill.

  4. "If our own country strengthens its' gun background check system, where will those terrorists get their guns?"

    From another country
    From an intelligence agency (mumbai)
    Steal them
    Sneak them into the country (same as Mumbai)

    There are lots of other sources - fixing the issue with terrorists and the NICS check is not going to make this problem suddenly go away.

  5. Attacks on military bases and personnel are not terrorism. Terrorism requires violent attacks on civilians by non-government troops. Hasan and all the other military attacks were against troops and military targets.

    Most terrorist attacks use bombs because they kill masses of people at once, and have a huge psychological impact.

    There have been zero incidents of islamic terrorists committing terror attacks anywhere in the world with guns purchased in the United States.

    Many horrifying terror attacks, such as the Madrid bombings of 2004, the London bombing of 2005, the attacks in Mumbai, have taken place in countries with absolute gun prohibitions that did not stop the attackers from obtaining guns.

    Mexico has absolute gun prohibition and is awash both in illegal guns, and drug cartel fighting that borders on terrorism.

    Increased gun prohibition in the United States will do nothing, zero, zilch, zip, nada to prevent terrorists anywhere from obtaining weapons and carrying out violent attacks.

  6. Of course, comparing the acts of treasonous people like Nidal, that attacked fellow troops in support of an enemy to possible use of 2nd Amendment rights in defense of fellow citizens, their rights, and in protection of the Constitution, is comparing apples to oranges.....to put it mildly.

    The greatest danger of the Mumbai attacks was not that they may have purchased hand guns in India, but that the populace was disarmed. Furthermore, the terrorists there used explosives and automatic weapons. Those are already strictly controlled in the US.

    Lautenberg's bill would give too much authority to an appointed official, with an agenda. The same AG that allowed the Gun Walker travesty, would be in charge of the gun rights of everybody in the country.

    Everyone is innocent until PROVEN guilty. That is the law. No rights should be removed until a citizen is convicted in a court of law for a crime, or adjudicated to be mentally unsound and a danger to themselves and others.

  7. "I wouldn't say that denying someone to buy a gun is convicting someone."

    But that is what you need to do to strip ones rights away a felony conviction in a court with lawyers and stuff. You constantly refer to them as terrorists yet apparently a majority of them have yet to commit a crime that they have actually been tried let alone convicted for.

  8. "I believe there are reasons the people on the list were placed on the list. It is not just happenstance that someone's name is there."

    Well, according to the Department of Homeland Security you could make the list for the following reasons ....

    Opposition to abortion.
    Opposition to illegal immigration.
    Learning to fight in the military (being a veteran)
    Opposition to an African American President (whether your opposition is because he is incompetent and not because of race or not)
    Having your house foreclosed
    Inability to get credit
    Being critical of outsourcing jobs
    Perceiving threats to the US by foreign powers
    Opposition to bigger social programs
    Criticism of government infringement of civil rights


    Actor Mark Ruffalo has been placed on a terror advisory list by U.S. officials after organizing screenings for a new documentary about natural gas drilling.

    Your Lautenberg dream bill gives the authority to the Attorney General, the same Attorney General whose minions helped arm the drug cartels in order to show that there really was a problem with the cartels getting American weapons.

    Thing is, the list is secret and the people putting you on are secret. Do you really want your rights abridged by a star chamber?

    Assume it wasn't guns we are talking about since you can't find a single reason not to keep someone from having a gun. Car bombs are a much bigger risk. Would you be willing to revoke the driver's license and make it a felony to be in a vehicle for someone on the list? Knowing that someone who doesn't like you could put your name on that list?


  9. Joan,

    If you think it is acceptable to deny people their 2nd Amendment rights based on the "Terror Watch List"; do you think it is acceptable to deny them their other rights?

    Such as protection against unreasonable search and seizure?
    Freedom of Speech?
    The right to practice a Religion?
    Right against Self-Incrimination?

    Are you going to be consistent in your world view or does it only apply to firearms?

  10. Actually, Robin, that last one was a bit amusing- " To my knowledge, no DHS or TSA official has tried the no-fly trick on his or her spouse, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time. They did put an eight-year-old on it, although they said they didn't. The Humiliating Bus Incident reminds me of the U.S. fugitive who authorities could not locate for almost two years although she was working for the Department of Homeland Security the entire time. That's not quite as awesome as escaping by clinging to the underside of a bus carrying DHS employees, but it's still pretty remarkable."

  11. Anon- I need to remind you that a few of you commenting here said that the people who are suspected terrorists and on the list should be racially profiled and arrested for looking "Arab" or just plain arrested or have their homes searched. I guess we can't have it both ways.

  12. @ Japete

    so basically what you're saying is that the government is right, the government is always right, therefor if they say someone did something (or is thinking about doing something) then thats obviously the truth and they need not prove their case, provide evidence of their claim or give the accused the right to fight this claim.

    I for one see no way that this could (or is) possibly be used to abuse the rights of the citizens of the United States.

  13. No, comradepeter ( love the name and wonder what it really means, by the way) I am certainly not saying that the government is always right. I think you will read in my subsequent post to this one that we have problems that need to be addressed. I never think the government is always right but I do respect the government and will not take up arms against my own government. I speak out and express my views, just like other Americans, if I see something with which I object. That is the democratic way of participating which I support.

  14. japete: "I need to remind you that a few of you commenting here said that the people who are suspected terrorists and on the list should...have their homes searched. I guess we can't have it both ways."

    Yes -- japete, you are right! We can't have it both ways -- we are either going to deny Constitutional rights to those whom bureaucrats place on a secret list using secret criteria, or we are going to respect Constitutional rights.

    Why would searches without warrants be illegal for those on a terror suspect watch list, but denying a gun purchase not also be illegal?

    One violates the 4th Amendment and the other violates the 2nd Amendment.

  15. Japete: “It appears that gun rights activists would prefer to do nothing about this national security problem because it just "might" lead to confiscation of their own guns or abridging of their own gun rights.”

    I have touched on this before, but I don’t speak out against this legislation because I believe my personal rights will be abridged. I highly doubt I will ever find myself on a terrorist watchlist. What I am doing is defending the constitution, and the rights of all citizens- which ultimately is in my best interests as well, albeit less direct.

    Japete: “One of my commenters was willing to concede that something needed to be done but he preferred a shorter list and wanted to assure that neither 2nd or 5th Amendment rights were abridged.”

    This is slightly misrepresentative of my position. I am not fearful of our gun laws aiding terrorist attacks, so in that sense I don’t think “something needs to be done”. I don’t think any amount of background checks are going to stop actual terrorists from procuring guns. You can blame that on the pure quantity of guns if you wish, but we all know there are a myriad of ways outside of FFLs for them to arm themselves- particularly since we are talking about people so dedicated to their cause that they are willing to die for it. I can’t see them giving up after being turned away by a dealer.

    My overall point was that your proposal violates multiple amendments of the constitution. I offered my opinion on a way to do it which is constitutional and personally acceptable to me, and it is based on precedents that we already have. Namely the government can’t strip rights of suspects but they can suspend some rights with a court order so long as it is temporary. A judge has to agree with law enforcement that there is enough evidence to warrant a suspension of rights. If Lautenberg’s amendment were to pass, it could clearly get overturned on 5th amendment grounds. So why not try and pass a law that is constitutional?

    Japete: “It would be a good idea to come up with something better than racial profiling or immediate arrest of these folks or searching homes without a warrant.”

    I am not sure whose comment you are referring to here, but I am guessing they were simply drawing parallels to your proposal. If you can deny the right to bear arms based on this list, why not advocate denying the right to privacy as well? We have a precedent for getting search warrants, and that is exactly what I am proposing. So why isn’t following the same practice for guns the perfect solution? Can you please explain to me why you think it won’t work, or won’t work as well?

  16. TS- I just don't know enough about what you are proposing to comment on that. I have no idea whether that would work. I would have to send it to some folks who know a whole lot more about this than I do. Perhaps I will do just that. So what if someone agreed that your way would work better. What are the chances that even then, the gun lobby would sign on? It appears to me that you guys and the gun lobby are against whatever I or other gun control advocates recommend out of habit. You won't support anything we suggest.

  17. Speaking as someone whose family member was put on the watchlist for something as simple as a name that was similar to someone else's, there is NO way to actually get off of the list. The best you can do is get a traveler redress number, to help differentiate you from someone else. Now my family member, whenever they wish to travel, is ALWAYS subject to extra searches, delays, and such. And they have never done anything wrong. Now you want to deny them further rights? How is that common sense?

  18. Japete: “I just don't know enough about what you are proposing to comment on that. I have no idea whether that would work.”

    What I am proposing is that it gets done the exact same way as a search warrant. You don’t have to know all the details to know that it is common sense. I don’t.

  19. japete wrote: "You [the dreaded 'gun lobby'] won't support anything we suggest."

    First, it's factually incorrect. NRA supported the NICS system, and supports upgrades to it. Your proposal, however, amounts to a secret list of people to whom we can deny constitutional rights.

    Your July 4 post spoke of "patriotism;" frankly, no patriot can support the system you seek. Patriots understand that the Constitution governs here, not faceless amorphous fears. And the Constitution requires due process before we deprive a citizen of "life, liberty, or property." Your proposal dispenses with that due process requirement. Patriots should oppose that at every turn.

    On a more general level, the reason the 'gun lobby' supposedly won't support "anything" you suggest is simple: we don't trust your motives. And we have no reason to trust your motives. History has taught us, bitterly, not to trust your motives.

    Neither, BTW, do I trust the motives of Sen. Lautenburg.

  20. "Anon- I need to remind you that a few of you commenting here said that the people who are suspected terrorists and on the list should be racially profiled and arrested for looking "Arab" or just plain arrested or have their homes searched. I guess we can't have it both ways."

    What I ACTUALLY SAID was a rhetorical question ("What solution is possible? Not selling guns to people who look like arabs? ") meant to illustrate the difficulty of picking out who exactly is and isn't a terrorist.

    I know this is your blog and your rules, but I'll thank you not to misrepresent what your commenters write.

  21. Speaking of the TSA and their myriad outrages; Citizens have a Constitutional right to travel between States, and a statutory right to use the airways so the "do not fly" is an ugly infringement, though not nearly so ugly as the molestations disguised as merely uwarranted searches in the name of "security."

    Given this level of "respect" that Federal agencies have for our Civil Rights, I don't think giving any of them more power is a good idea.

  22. TS: "What I am proposing is that it gets done the exact same way as a search warrant."

    I might not altogether object to something like that.

    Guy tries to buy a gun and his name comes up on a list of "suspects." No automatic denial as gun control advocates propose. However -- govt may go to a judge (security clearance probably required), present evidence of a clear and present danger, and obtain a court order denying the sale.

    Due process!

  23. So.. "1119 transactions were allowed to proceed" and if the bill you like was passed, they would have been stopped.

    Simple question., How many of the 1119 people went on to commit a terrorist act with that gun they bought?

    I'd think that 1119 terrorist attacks would have made the news.

    If the answer is near ZERO then we don't actually have a problem that needs to be addressed by giving the government yet more power to create secret lists that affect citizens.

    I suspect they would have caught more ACTUAL terrorists if they had a NICS check for buying box cutters not guns.

    I see in the news that Terrorists are now thinking of surgically embedding bombs in people..

    Can't wait to see what the TSA comes up with to stop that.

  24. Breaking News: Source claims ATF's Tampa SAC walked guns to Honduras

    National gun rights | Examiner.com


    Someone is going to prison, three guesses who and the first two, "a law-abiding gun owner" don't count.

  25. Nice psuedonym- anyway, considering the source of this information, I'll wait to hear from a more neutral source as to the verity of this.