Monday, August 22, 2011

Gun Hysteria On The Right

At the risk of offending my fellow conservatives and fellow gun-owners, I feel compelled to point out that Second Amendment absolutism is as naive as First Amendment absolutism. Yes, the left has long sought to get our guns out of our hands on multiple pretenses and factual inaccuracies. The old NRA slogan "when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns" remains as true today as when it was first coined.

But some pro-gun advocates need to lighten up and recognize that the government occasionally comes up with a reasonable idea. The FBI recently told military-surplus stores to keep records of bulk purchases of the following items: Weatherproof ammunition or match containers, meals ready-to-eat, night vision devices, high-power flashlights, gas masks, high capacity magazines, and bi-pods or tripods for rifles. The handout to storeowners also advised them to require valid ID from all customers not personally known to them, talk to customers, ask questions, and listen to and observe their responses, watch for people and actions that are "out of place," make note of suspicious statements, people, and/or vehicles, and if something seems wrong, notify law enforcement offices.

As a Second Amendment near-purist, were I a military-surplus/gun store owner, I would be doing exactly those things, with or without instructions from the FBI. But several gun ownership advocates have gone ballistic (pun intended) over the handout. There seems to be a consensus among them that the government has no business advising private businesses to be watchful for potential terrorists or just plain violent criminals. Oath Keepers, a group of former and current military and police members, have sworn not to enforce unconstitutional government orders, and they include this handout as one of those unconstitutional orders. They are advising storeowners not to comply with the FBI handout.

Now I'm as suspicious of the federal government as the next gun-toting, Constitution-loving, Bible-clinging guy. But even I can recognize FBI instructions which are nothing more than plain common sense. Store owners are not being required to become unpaid FBI and anti-terrorism agents. Rather, they are being asked to do what a good citizen in dangerous times ought to do--assist law enforcement in identifying potential danger. Most of the potentially disastrous attacks planned in America since 9-11 have been thwarted first and foremost by alert citizens who reported suspicious activity to law enforcement.

The handout is part of an FBI program to garner public participation in stopping terrorist attacks and criminal violence. It is called "Communities Against Terrorism." The handout includes the following statement: "Preventing terrorism is a community effort. By learning what to look for, you can make a positive contribution in the fight against terrorism. The partnership between the community and law enforcement is essential to the success of anti-terrorism efforts." Again, a common sense statement backed by proof that community awareness is essential to the efforts to prevent terrorist and violent criminal activity.

Could there be an ulterior motive for the handout? You bet there could. The gun-grabbers in the Obama administration want to identify their "enemies" in the gun-owning community. Furthermore, there is a hint of this mentality in the handout, which says: "Consider as suspicious anyone who demands identity privacy or anyone who expresses extreme religious statements, and those who make suspicious comments regarding anti-US or radical theology." Even a good idea can be perverted, but that doesn't make the idea any less good.

The Obama administration is paranoid about "Christian militias" and "Christian extremists" which largely don't exist. But I'd be the first to report an alleged Christian who wants to blow up or shoot people for having different views. Christianity strongly opposes such violence, but like good ideas, religion can also be perverted. So let's face it--the underlying point of the handout is that Muslims attacked the World Trade Center, even if it were true that this was a perversion of Islam. If so, there are a lot of Muslim perverters of Islam. As for Christianity, both Timothy McVeigh and the Oslo terrorist spouted perverted versions of Christianity and both would have been "suspicious" if they had turned up to buy weapons at my gun store.

And as further criticism of the handout, there is the genuine argument and glaring fact that conscientious gun storeowners attempted to report suspicious gun sales to federal authorities who were participating in the disastrous Operation Fast and Furious. They were told by ATF and FBI agents to go ahead and make the sales, move on, nothing to see here. If government agencies choose to ignore reports of suspicious activity, or worse, are actively participating in the suspicious activities, that is a problem quite separate from the purposes of the handout. Congress is already investigating that deadly fiasco.

Can I see that this common sense approach to preventing terrorism could be detoured or perverted by government authorities? Of course I can. But there is a sensible balancing test in the law (and philosophy) which addresses the issue: "Does the utility of the act outweigh the risk of harm?" In this case, I believe it does. And we must remember that the leftist anti-gun Obama administration will not be in power much longer, nor will the prosecution of terrorist activities be in the hands of the highly-politicized Holder Justice Department forever.

The likelihood of innocent civilians being persecuted as a result of complying with the FBI handout is extremely small. I didn't say impossible, just extremely small. Frankly, I'd like to know why a completely upright citizen would need or want multiple semi-automatic weapons and paraphernalia myself. I wouldn't deny him that right, but I'd sure want to do at least a cursory investigation into what his legitimate purposes are and whether they are for purposes of hunting and self-defense or more sinister purposes.

The burden on the government is to prove that the guns are being purchased for unlawful purposes rather than on the citizen to prove he is using them lawfully. That is a legal distinction which does indeed seem to escape the Obama administration. But we must also remember that for now at least, the Supreme Court has upheld the individual right to keep and bear arms pursuant to the Second Amendment. Yet like the exception to the First Amendment that says you can't yell "fire" in a crowded theater, it is likely that there will be exceptions to the Second Amendment rule.

Multiple gun ownership will not be forbidden by one of those exceptions, but multiple gun ownership for purposes which are a clear and present danger to the safety of American citizens likely will be. Still, the FBI handout isn't advocating gun confiscation. It is merely asking for citizen participation in identifying suspicious activity and staving off potentially deadly terrorist and criminal use of deadly weapons. I support the theory completely. It remains to be seen whether I will support the way it is practiced.


LL said...

Of course the knee jerk reaction operates as a function of paranoia - in great part generated by the Obama Administration's extraordinary efforts (Operation Gunrunner/Fast and Furious) to paint all who own or sell firearms as inherently evil.

It backfired in the case of the US Governments efforts to traffic civilian firearms and under other programs, military grade munitions, directly to drug cartels so that they could show that private firearms ownership in the US harms --- whatever.

I agree with your article. However, I don't blame the negative and suspicious reaction on the part of merchants on anything but Washington.

Obama has been the best firearms and ammunition salesman in the history of the United States.

Unknown said...

LL: I certainly agree that Washington, and particularly this administration, have given plenty of reason to shopowners to be suspicious. Still, most of the criticism of the program comes from purist Second Amendment groups rather than from the shopowners themselves. The program does not provide any penalties for not reporting "suspicious activity," and since that leaves the discretion to report or not report in the hands of ordinary citizens, I don't see it as a Nazi/communist-style effort to get Americans to start turning on each other. Something has to be done to stem the tide of well-armed violent criminals and drug cartels. and this seems like a valid common sense approach to me.

AndrewPrice said...

Unfortunately, guns are an emotional issue to the left. And they are liars about both their goals and their intended means of achieving those goals.

Hence, they have spent the better part of the last 4-5 decades trying everything they could to get guns out of the hands of average people. So I think the right is justified in feeling paranoid about anything coming from the left because there's a track record there of lying and distoring to try to take guns away from average people.

That said, I agree that this is entirely reasonable and people should not be freaking out that a common sense plan to spot potential bad people (terrorists, drug gangs, etc.) is somehow an encroachment on people's rights.

Unknown said...

Andrew: All true. I'm no conspiracy theorist, but I can't help thinking that even Project Gunrunner and Operation Fast and Furious may very well have been another attempt by the gun-grabbers to demonize gun ownership. It went terribly wrong, and I truly hope some heads will roll over it.

rlaWTX said...

I think that one of the things gun-nuts (and I mean that in the nicest way - I plan to hie myself to their houses when the zombie apocalypse comes) worry about legitimately is incrementalism. Today this is a request, tomorrow it is a requirement. Today it is not stopping gun sales, tomorrow it is. If anything, this administration has shown themselves more than willing to change the law through fiat and regulation. So, while this seems like common sense precaution, and many gun shops probably would take notice of this behavior anyway, having this govt, this administration making this "request" coming down from the hallowed halls of the ivory tower makes it questionable on its face.

But I also think that the gun-nut screamers had take a note from "The Boy Who Cried Wolf". Those who sympathize with the concerns of 2nd Am. encroachment might stop listening if they holler at every twitch from the administration while seeming to oppose common sense precautions.

Unknown said...

rlaWTX: I agree about incrementalism. But we should cross that bridge when we come to it. My support of the current memo would turn to total opposition the moment the memo became an order rather than a request. And I'm quite sure there are millions of other gun owners who would join me.

Right now, like you, I worry about the "boy who cried wolf" syndrome. We should always be vigilant about government encroachment on private rights, but outright opposition to a simple, common sense request (more like a reminder) seems a little cuckoo to me, and it gives the gun-grabbers an opportunity to call us "gun nuts."

T-Rav said...

The NRA frustrates me sometimes. I got a call from them a couple of weeks ago, asking me to become a member or at least give them some money to fight the gun control lobby. I didn't have a lot to spare, but I was going to offer them some advice. To wit: stop giving Democratic congressmen "A" ratings just because they happen to support gun rights. That's nice and all, but the party agenda is what matters; the Dem leaders are obviously anti-gun, and giving their underlings these high marks only protects them (the leaders) and their power to screw everything up. But they kept asking for money without letting me say anything, so I hung up.

Unknown said...

T-Rav: In many ways, the NRA has become just another lobbying group. That means it supports its own agenda independent of any other issues which affect Americans. Andrew and I have both warned in the past about "single issue" organizations. That myopic view can potentially result in more harm than good. People whose sole and only issue is guns don't want to hear you talk about the economy, gay marriage, socialism, foreign policy, government overreach, or any other important issue.

The NAACP and the 60s Civil Rights groups are still fighting fights and stirring up resentments over their single issue of long ago legal and factual discrimination. The NRA is still promoting its single issue as if the two landmark Supreme Court decisions hadn't been handed down last year.

Notawonk said...

law: it's the state of our government, and it's destruction of freedoms of late, that cause this reaction. if you trust that your government(this administration) has your back and the back of others, you'll take what they say at face value and cooperate. if you don't trust them because they keep proving to be untrustworthy, you gotta go with suspicion of intent.

Joel Farnham said...


Literally you are asking for us to trust a government who has continually lied to us about other things like Global Warming, Freon, Fannie Mae, what the stimulus spending was going to be used for, Ruby Ridge, Fast and Furious, Waco, the reason for confiscating guns after Katrina, the absurd notion that we should worry about terrorists who voted for McCain, ..... do I have to list them all, or do you get the picture I am seeing? I don't trust the government. I don't think I ever will.

Yes, on the face of it, it sounds reasonable. So do a lot of things coming from the government. All this note does is warn us that the US government is going to raid the guys that do collect more ammo that some bureaucrat thinks a citizen shouldn't have. How much is too much? It is up to the government to decide.

Unknown said...

Joel: Your second paragraph answers the problem. As it is, reporting is left up to gunshop owners who are suspicious of purchasing activity. If the owner doesn't find the activity suspicious, he won't report it. The government isn't deciding, it's responding. That's how it's supposed to work.

I'm aware of every negative you listed in your first paragraph, and I concur. But if a gunshop owner becomes suspicious of a customer's gun purchases (and chances are very good that the owner is a Second Amendment advocate), who would you want him to report his suspicions to? I don't trust our current federal government, and particularly the executive branch, but is the alternative simply to eliminate all government? Eliminate law enforcement? Form vigilante committees?

As long as the reporting remains voluntary and in the hands of conscientious citizens, I don't see a whole lot of viable options. I've made my disgust for big government interference in our daily lives very apparent on this blog, but I'm not a big fan of anarchy either.

Unknown said...

Patti: As a defense attorney, I spent much of my life suspicious of police intent. Occasionally, it was well-founded. But as I mentioned to Joel, suspicion should not lead to paralysis. If there's a viable alternative to conscientious citizens voluntarily reporting suspicious activity to the duly-constituted legal authorities, I'm all for it. I just can't imagine what that alternative might be.

Joel Farnham said...


You are forgetting that there are always follow ups to requests. Now, the FBI is just making a request. What is the penalty for non-compliance? We don't know.

We also don't know if the FBI already has the answers and is looking for dealers who don't comply. The initial raids will be on the dealers who don't comply.

We already know that terrorists aren't arming themselves with guns and ammo. They operate completely different than that. Their preferred weapon is a bomb strategically placed so as to cause the greatest amount of panic and terror. The few that aren't doing that are radicalized and in place in the institutions we have right now. Why isn't the FBI concentrating on finding the radical ones? Why hasn't the government cracked down on radical Muslims being created in Prisons? That is the most fertile ground.

Already in California a private citizen can only buy so many rounds per month. No Law on the books. At least I couldn't find any. You just can't buy more than a thousand rounds. I knew gun enthusiasts who were complaining about the limitation. That could be city specific, I lived in Sacramento.

Unknown said...

Joel: We do know. There are no penalties for non-compliance. As I mentioned within the article and at least one response to a comment, when it becomes mandatory or there are penalties, I will reverse my position entirely.

This doesn't solely involve terrorists. The big issue in fact is the drug cartels' need for powerful reliable guns. Why the government isn't rooting out more radicals is a topic almost entirely unrelated to the point of this post. Still, all indications are that the terrorists don't intend to be unarmed if someone points out that they have bombs.

As for how many rounds or what type of weapons citizens can purchase, I mentioned that most of those restrictions will be gone as courts enforce the rulings in the two US Supreme Court decisions confirming the fundamental right of citizens to keep and bear arms.

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