By Alan Gottlieb and Joe Waldron
Forgive us for asking, but how might civil rights activists and editorialists react if they learned that a United States Senator wants to keep personal records on people suspected of carrying the AIDS virus, even though they have harmed nobody and committed no crime? There would be outrage.



That is essentially what anti-gun Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey) is advocating. He wants the government to maintain gun purchase records for at least ten years on persons whose names appear on terrorist watch lists. How does one get his name on such a list? How does he get his name removed if he is innocent?



According to a report from the Government Accountability Office, 58 such persons were identified through National Instant Check System “hits” in 2004 as having applied for firearm purchases. Of those, 47 transactions were allowed to proceed because there was no evidence that any of those people was disqualified for any reason. That means they have not been charged with, or convicted of any crime. They’ve never been in mental institutions, aren’t illegal aliens, weren’t dishonorably discharged from the armed forces, haven’t renounced their citizenship, nor are they otherwise disqualified.



The GAO, at Lautenberg’s request, looked at the NICS system to determine how the FBI could better manage background checks. GAO called its report “Gun Control and Terrorism.” Lautenberg immediately began spinning the report to push his anti-gun agenda. He would have us believe that terrorists are buying guns due to loopholes in the system, when the report demonstrates that the NICS system works.



The report clearly notes that, from Feb. 3 through June 30, 2004, a total of 44 “valid matches” were identified out of more than 3.1 million NICS checks conducted during that period. Of those, 35 transactions were allowed to proceed because none of these people had any disqualifiers.



What Lautenberg didn’t say – and what would alarm the civil liberties crowd if they were as interested in firearms rights as in other civil rights – is that during the same period, an estimated 650 NICS transactions “generated initial hits on terrorist records” in the government’s Violent Gang and Terrorist Organization File. However, the report admits, “The vast majority of NICS transactions that generated initial hits on terrorist records…did not result in valid matches.” Translation: The initial “hits” were mistakes.



What would Lautenberg have the government do, prohibit someone who has evidently committed no crime from exercising a civil right, simply because they are “suspected” of something? That’s what the New York Times, New York Daily News and other newspapers want. Okay, prove these people are terrorists. They’ll lose their guns…and their freedom.



Nobody is defending terrorists, nor are we suggesting that terrorists might have the same Constitutionally-protected right to own a firearm as any law-abiding citizen. In our view, terrorists have no rights; a position that doesn’t square with people who wring their hands over the plight of Guantanamo Bay detainees.



While Lautenberg and other extremists focus on creating a de facto gun registry on some people who legally purchase firearms, what about the handful of “suspected terrorists” who were denied their gun purchases because of disqualifiers? Have those people been arrested for trying to buy a gun? Where are they? The report doesn’t say.



GAO revealed current NICS procedures that most people don’t know about. Sen. Lautenberg is angry that records of successful NICS transactions are destroyed within 24 hours. He doesn’t note that the FBI has revised its policies “to allow for the retention of non-identifying information related to each proceeded background check for up to 90 days,” nor has he pointed out – as did the GAO report – that “The 24-hour destruction provision did not affect federal policies for retaining NICS records related to denied firearms transactions.” Records of those transactions, GAO said, “are retained indefinitely.”



In Sen. Lautenberg’s malevolent view, anyone who buys a gun is a suspected terrorist. If we adopted all of the gun controls he has ever advocated, we would only disarm honest citizens, not criminals or terrorists, and he knows it. Should we stop people from exercising their gun rights? If we do that, what’s next? Do we take away their other rights? Do we confine them without trial? How far do we go? Where does it stop?



If Frank Lautenberg achieved his goals, we would surrender the very freedom that terrorists are trying to destroy, and our liberty would be lost forever.