Guns, Terrorists And Civil Liberties
By HENRY STERN
Accustomed as we have become to various scenarios which involve corruption, cronyism, incompetence, foolishness and favoritism, we were nonetheless surprised to learn that last Thursday, a vote was taken by the House Judiciary which defeated an anti-terrorism initiative which we, in our naiveté, believed would have been unobjectionable.
The proposal would give the Attorney General of the United States authority to deny the transfer of a firearm to someone who is on the government’s Terrorism Watch List. It came as an amendment to H.R. 1800, offered by U.S. Rep. Michael Quigley of Illinois. The amendment is only one sentence long, although it is a long sentence. Here it is, in full:
“The Attorney General may deny the transfer of a firearm if information obtained through the use of authorities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.) indicates that a prospective firearm transferee is or has been engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism, and the Attorney General has a reasonable belief that the prospective transferee may use a firearm in connection with terrorism.”
The Quigley Amendment was defeated by a party line vote, 11 Democrats in support, 21 Republicans in opposition. Republican U.S. Rep. Peter King of Long Island, chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security, has introduced similar legislation, also pending before the Judiciary Committee and not yet brought to a vote.
The quest for authority to deny a firearm to a potential terrorist began in the Bush administration, but such a bill was twice rejected by Congress, largely because of opposition by the National Rifle Association, one of the most powerful lobbies in the United States. The chair of the House Judiciary Committee is currently Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, a state where gun ownership by individuals is highly valued.
The House decision was noted that afternoon by Mayor Mike Bloomberg in a press conference dealing with the arrest of two lone wolf terrorists in Queens. He said: “Let me just point out that even as the NYPD continues to do such great work in this area, today there was a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives on a measure that would have prevented people on the terrorist watch list from purchasing guns. I’m sorry to report that measure failed. Our Coalition of Mayors Against Illegal Guns has urged Congress to pass such restrictions, and last night’s arrest is a perfect illustration why.”
In an April 28 Associated Press article, Eileen Sullivan reported that last year, according to FBI figures, 247 people on the terror watch list “who were allowed to buy weapons did so after going through required background checks as required by federal law.” Her article is a thorough analysis of the issue, citing both sides. It is well worth reading.
There are people out there who strongly oppose this bill, which seems so sensible to many others. Their position is expressed by the National Rifle Association, whose staff has prepared a brief stating their case.
Each side in this controversy refers to the other as “extremists.” It was not, however, leftist radicals who killed 169 people at the Oklahoma City federal building on April 19, 1995, deliberately marking the second anniversary of the Branch Davidian fire in Waco, Texas, which killed 54 adults and 21 children. That is the day before Hitler’s birthday, April 20, a date the teenaged Columbine murderers commemorated in 1999 by shooting to death 12 fellow students and one teacher and injuring 21 others. Six people died when U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot on Jan. 8 while greeting constituents in her Arizona district.
The arguments made by the NRA parallel in some ways those of leftist organizations who defend terrorists by claiming that their Constitutional rights have been abridged at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere by detention, interrogation, rendition and other practices intended to elicit information from those unwilling to supply it voluntarily. Like the NRA, these groups challenge the executive branch exercising its powers, and sometimes they prevail in the judicial branch, which is traditionally more sensitive to individual liberties than the branch whose elected leaders have historically felt a greater responsibility to keep Americans safe from harm.
The NRA’s challenge to executive authority is manifest in the legislative branch, where its influence is strong, due to its large membership scattered in swing states, and its effective lobbying and political action. President Barack Obama and the Justice Department are regularly accused of violating the rights and desires of gun owners.
The Quigley amendment does not forbid possible terrorists from purchasing guns, it simply gives the Attorney General the right to prevent such a transaction if he has “a reasonable belief that the prospective transferee may use a firearm in connection with terrorism.” Does that not appear sensible? Most transactions are likely to be approved, but there is value in the Justice Department knowing which potential terrorists are buying guns.
We did not anticipate the result in the Judiciary Committee, but we should have foreseen it considering the legislative history of this matter. We know that any form of restriction on the sale or use of firearms engenders fierce resistance by a spectrum ranging from hunters to survivalists, possibly including both Birchers and birthers. What we did not realize was that, even when the prevention of terrorists from taking the lives of Americans is at stake, the right to transfer firearms still takes precedence.
God bless America. His blessing may be necessary for its protection.
A New Idea To Reform Member Item Spending
By Matthew Silverstein
Over the last few years, the nonprofit world has really been hammered by the bad economy. In New York State, the nonprofit world was forced to swallow another bitter pill this year, with the complete elimination of all member items from the state budget.
One might ask, what exactly is a member item? A member item is a grant of money given to nonprofits by members of the State Legislature. This grant is used by nonprofits for community-based programs. Many organizations servicing senior citizens, veterans, people living with HIV/AIDS, LGBT homeless youth and the disabled depend on this funding for their organization’s survival. Many of these programs will be forced to shut down with the elimination of this funding.
I understand Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desire to clean up Albany and balance the budget, however, taking away member items is really going to hurt the public more in the long run. Instead of advocating for restoration of member items, here is a new concept (borrowed from Texas), that will help nonprofits survive and will help clean up Albany.
The Fund for Veterans Assistance was created by the Texas State Legislature in 2005. Money from the fund is given out to local and statewide veterans programs. This funding helps supports job placement programs, nursing care, educational scholarships, counseling services and other important programs. The money is given out by a commission in which its members are appointed by the governor and the legislature. The fund is supported financially off the revenue from Veterans Cash, which is a $2 scratch off lottery ticket.
So here is what I am proposing for New York. Either the legislature or the governor should establish the “Fund For Community Assistance.” An 11-member commission can be set up. Five members will be appointed by Gov. Cuomo. Three members will be appointed by State Sen. Majority Leader Dean Skelos, and three members will be appointed by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. These 11 members will be responsible for giving out funds to nonprofits, and they will be responsible for determining how effective these programs are, through performance-based contracting. The money for the fund will be raised off the New York State Lottery Division’s new scratch off game, titled “Community Cash”. This new game will be marketed so that people know that all proceeds from this game go towards funding community programs in New York State.
Since the Veterans Cash game was created back in 2009, over $11 million has been raised to support Texas Veterans. If Texas can do this, so can New York. I’m sure that if properly marketed, the State would be able to raise much more than the $11 million raised in Texas.
This simple solution saves our state’s nonprofits and helps clean up the member item spending process, which for decades has been politically-motivated and scandal-ridden. So Gov. Cuomo and the state legislature, the ball is now in your court.
Matthew Silverstein is the 2nd Vice President of the Bay Terrace Community Alliance, a non profit in Bay Terrace, Queens and the Democratic State Committeeman for the 26th AD.