I was vaguely hopeful that when the Democrats got elected, they might reinstate some of the civil liberties that had been stripped away during the Bush administration. Powerful tools were created very quickly (some with questionable legality...) due to the fear and panic following 9/11. Many of these tools impose on the rights and freedoms that we as Americans enjoy.
Sadly, it looks like the Dems rather enjoy those tools now that they are in power, and they will use them to push their own agenda now.
I have been personally impacted by these as I'm on the "No Fly" terror watchlist. This means that every time I fly, I must show up early. I endure extra scrutiny at check in, and I have to wait on line to check in at the counter -- I cannot use the internet or a kiosk. The agent must call someone to get permission for me to fly, and sometimes they don't know the procedure so I have to ask for a manager while enduring their fearful glare. If the phone or database is out, then you will miss your flight. I almost always get "randomly selected" for extra security screening, which means I get a patdown search at the TSA checkpoint and my bags are rooted through. When I flew in Philadelphia with automatic weapons to get to my deployment, even though I was in full uniform, there was almost PSH.
As a note, I'm a military member, deployed to Afghanistan to kill Taliban/AQ types and To Keep America Safe (rah rah!). I guess its some paperwork error or case of mistaken identity? It started under the Bush administration so I guess its not because Janet Napolitano thinks I'm a dangerous extremist. I am not the only one that has had trouble -- Sen Ted Kennedy has been hassled, former AK Senator Ted Stevens' wife had trouble, my state Representative Don Young had trouble, marines returning from the sandbox have been listed, etc etc.
Unfortunately, there is no way to get off the watchlist. DHS and TSA cannot confirm if you are on the list because the list is classified. I only know because I interrogated an airline agent one day and got her to spill the CAPPS acronym. DHS has a process called "TRIP" that allows you to send them all sorts of personal documents over an unsecure website so that they can make it easier to differentiate you from the Bad People. Of course, this process is useless as (A) there's no way to know that they've actually done anything and hold them accountable and (B) it takes a minimum of 30 days to even acknowledge that you've sent them something, much less actually processed it.
As someone who has worked in the IC, I understand the pressures on watchlisting: you get rewarded for making the list bigger, not more accurate. When in doubt, you add the person to the list because you don't wnat to risk missing anyone -- there's an "us or them" mentality and you want to protect your team. You don't give a shit about reviewing it for accuracy because there's no way to hold people accountable for such a nebulous and judgment prone process. I give in to those pressures here in Afghanistan and I am a relatively educated, conscientious individual!
So, this should show that the watchlist may be a useful tool for conducting investigations or tracking patterns of behavior (which may or may not be a fourth amendment issue...) but it is not a good one for denying fundamental rights. There is no due process. The attorney general (or designee -- usually an intel agency or FBI) can put you on the list for any reason, even just an analyst having a funny feeling. There's some indication that the Bush administration abused this by putting domestic political opponents on the list, so clearly, abuse is potentially part of the system.
THE LAW: HR 2159
HR 2159 is an odious piece of legislation. Go read it yourself if you don't believe me. Here's some choice bits.
First, we'll arbitrarily limit transfers because of a FutureCrime you may commit::
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.’;Next, this bit allows the AG to arbitrarily deny Federal Firearms Licenses because of a FutureCrime you may commit:
‘(H) The Attorney General may deny a license application if the Attorney General determines that the applicant (including any responsible person) 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 applicant may use a firearm in connection with terrorism.’.This part allows the AG to keep his reasons a secret, and also prevents you from confronting the witnesses and evidence against you:
(1) in the 1st sentence of paragraph (1), by inserting ‘, except that if the denial or revocation is pursuant to subsection (d)(1)(H) or (e)(3), then any information on which the Attorney General relied for this determination may be withheld from the petitioner if the Attorney General determines that disclosure of the information would likely compromise national security’ before the period; and
(2) in paragraph (3), by inserting after the 3rd sentence the following: ‘With respect to any information withheld from the aggrieved party under paragraph (1), the United States may submit, and the court may rely on, summaries or redacted versions of documents containing information the disclosure of which the Attorney General has determined would likely compromise national security.’.
This bit is the process for challenging your denial. Basically, the government must meet the low standard of "preponderance of the evidence" (that is, its more likely than not that your watchlisting was correct; 51% of the evidence presented in redacted documents indicates that you may be naughty in the future).
‘(b) In any case in which the Attorney General has denied the transfer of a firearm to a prospective transferee pursuant to section 922A or has made a determination regarding a firearm permit applicant pursuant to section 922B, an action challenging the determination may be brought against the United States. The petition must be filed not later than 60 days after the petitioner has received actual notice of the Attorney General’s determination made pursuant to section 922A or 922B. The court shall sustain the Attorney General’s determination on a showing by the United States by a preponderance of evidence that the Attorney General’s determination satisfied the requirements of section 922A or 922B. To make this showing, the United States may submit, and the court may rely on, summaries or redacted versions of documents containing information the disclosure of which the Attorney General has determined would likely compromise national security. On request of the petitioner or the court’s own motion, the court may review the full, undisclosed documents ex parte and in camera. The court shall determine whether the summaries or redacted versions, as the case may be, are fair and accurate representations of the underlying documents. The court shall not consider the full, undisclosed documents in deciding whether the Attorney General’s determination satisfies the requirements of section 922A or 922B.’.
To push this legislation, there is PSH over the so-called "Terror Gap." Sen Lautenberg seems to have coined this phrase:
“The special interest gun lobby has so twisted our nation’s laws that the rights of terrorists are placed above the safety of everyday Americans. The current law simply defies common sense. This new report is proof positive that known and suspected terrorists are exploiting a major loophole in our law, threatening our families and our communities. This ‘terror gap’ has been open too long and our national security demands that we shut it down,” Sen. Lautenberg said.
Now, first off, as far as I'm aware, the phrase "terror gap" refers to a "missile gap" and "bomber gap" back in the Cold War. These were used as justifications to justify big US defense spending. They implied that the Russians had more and better weapons than us, so we had to build bigger nukes to keep up. The logical implication would be that terrorists are getting very scary, and that we need to be scarier. I guess maybe he means that the terrorists are well armed and that we need to arm ourselves to a greater degree to keep up -- we should be letting citizens CCW to counter Mumbai-style attacks, and pilots should be armed. We certainly didn't try to solve the mythical cold war gaps by disarming Russians! Except, Lautenberg does think we can disarm terrorists (as I recall, no firearms were involved in 9/11... hrm...).
I think he uses the term "Gap" to stir up emotional feelings in Boomers who remember the Cold War and how scary it was. Note the close placement to fuzzy and predictable line about families and communities (its for the kids, honest!). Clearly he's aiming at middle-aged types with this rhetoric. Its sophistry.
Meanwhile, the Brady campaign is also experiencing PSH (scariest bits included in color-coded brown font):
I'd like to dissect this statement briefly. First, the bogus claim that the feds can't stop sales of firearms to terrorists. If you're a KNOWN terrorist, you're a felon. And if you're a felon, then you can't legally buy a gun. Making illegal things illegalar will not stop a determined criminal or terrorist from buying the item, well, illegally! If you're a SUSPECTED terrorist, then you're *guess what* innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, not innocent until the attorney general decides you're not. Plus, to say that everyone on the terror watchlist is a suspected terrorist is a stretch (unless the Brady Bunch are calling Sen Ted Kennedy a suspected terrorist).
U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and U.S. Representatives Peter T. King (R-NY) have introduced common sense legislation to deny firearms and explosives to terrorists. Currently, federal authorities cannot stop sales of guns — including military-style assault weapons — by dealers to known or suspected terrorists. This gap in the law threatens our nation's safety.
A new GAO report finds that, from February 2004 to February 2009, there were 963 cases in which a known or suspected terrorist attempted to buy a gun. In 90 percent of those cases — a total of 865 times — they were cleared to proceed with that purchase. One of those cases involved the purchase of explosives.
Congress must pass the Terror Gap bill to stop known or suspected terrorists from buying guns.
Next, we get the scary line about military-style assault weapons. Also, bogus. You can't buy an M16 or M4 or AK47 on the civilian market (at least not without a shitload of paperwork from the ATF to get a Class III license). They are highly regulated fully automatic weapons. The broad definition of assault weapon includes anything that has ever been used by any military anywhere or that looks scary. Note that terrorists don't need these weapons in order to commit acts of terror: the box cutters used on 9/11 worked just fine. They're not even favored by criminals for acts of crime. Show me any terror attacks in the US where terrorists have used "Assault Weapons." In fact, show me how many terror attacks in the US used firearms at all.
Finally, the scary looking statistics. How many people on the terror watchlist try to fly every day? How many are allowed to fly? I bet its a scarily high number! What the statistic shows is that over 90% of the people on the watchlist who try to buy guns are not felons, wife beaters, insane, otherwise disqualified from owning a firearm, or "false positives" who are later approved and allowed to buy.
The New York Times opines:
Congress should be dealing with the national embarrassment that individuals barred from airlines on the terrorist watch list are free to shop for firearms. Senator Frank Lautenberg has a proposal to let the attorney general block this insanity. Security-minded Americans, however, better not count on action by this timorous Congress.So, clearly, I am insane, according to the New York Times, because I oppose this "common sense" legislation. Also, even though I am in Afghanistan killing real terrorists to keep America safe, apparently I'm not a Security-Minded American.
A COMMONSENSE OUTCOME
If known or suspected terrorists cannot be allowed to exercise their second amendment rights, why do we allow them to assemble in public, to write letters to the editor, or to radicalize others in places of worship? Why do we allow these dangerous threats to our society to enjoy sanctuary under our own noses -- the police should be allowed to search terrorist's homes, papers, and persons at any time, without a warrant. Why do we extend terrorists the benefit of fifth amendment protections like jury trial and the right to confront witnesses against them? That would endanger sensitive classified information.
If you oppose these measures, you must be an insane suspected terrorist (apparently like me!). You must not want to keep our families and communities safe.
I think its scary just how many people actually sign on board to these draconian ideas, though. It shows that fear and emotional arguments work. It makes me wonder if people like Sen Lautenberg are so naive and foolish to think that their legislation would actually be effective, or if they're just cynical and seizing on people's fears to get any sort of legislation passed that furthers their agenda. If such foolishness and sophistry weren't so insidiously dangerous for our Constitutional Republic, for liberty, and for our personal safety, it'd be comical.