Paul Helmke, president of the DC based Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Ownership, recently penned an article accusing NRA leadership of wanting “to help suspected terrorists get easy access to guns.” His evidence? The NRA opposes a measure to ban gun sales to people whose names match or are similar to a name on the FBI’s terrorist watch list on the basis of the second and fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
What amazes me, is the complete 180 by liberal, anti-gun groups supporting the Brady Campaign’s position that used a near identical argument to the NRA in recent voter disenfranchisement cases. In Florida, as is common, felons are barred from voting. The state was criticized by civil rights groups after the so-called “Felon Purge” deleted the voter registration information of individuals with names similar to or matching those of convicted felons. Their arguments were just as justified then as they are now. To suggest that we should deny an American his Constitutional rights because his name matches the name of someone the FBI thinks may at some point commit a crime is un-American, and invites abuse. If that weren’t enough, the legislation would essentially prohibit any citizen, even if they could demonstrably prove they are not the person on the watch list–which they can’t because the FBI won’t let anyone see it–from challenging the decision to block their gun purchase in court. Which parts of “due process of the law” are unclear to Mr. Helmke and his organization?
Furthermore, though Helmke acknowledges that the “suicide pact” quotation is from an unrelated, first amendment case, he fails to acknowledge that Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson’s opinion was a dissent with the court’s ruling in Terminiello vs. City of Chicago. The Supreme Court overturned Terminiello’s conviction–which had been upheld by all other courts–on the basis that Chicago’s city ordinance violated the defendant’s First Amendment Rights. Helmke attempts to construe the Justice’s opinion as as an affirmation of laws limiting citizens’ Constitutional Rights. In contrast, the actual Supreme Court decision in the case he references overturned such restrictions.
Finally, Helmke makes Brady Campaign’s signature emotional appeal claiming firearms are used to kill 30,000 people each year. While this is a tragic number, it is also without context. Residents of the United States are 1.5 times more likely to die in a car accident than be killed by a firearm. They’re also significantly more likely to be poisoned. If we acknowledge that most firearm violence is primarily criminal on criminal, then Helmke’s claims become even more unfounded in predicting doom for the average citizen. The Brady Campaign’s simplistic argument also fails to acknowledge the number of lives saved by firearms. Though there are currently no reliable statistics available because we cannot quantify uncommitted crimes, it is worth repeating the number one fear of convicted felons is an armed victim, not the law.