David Freddoso: Should Ted Kennedy have been allowed to buy a gun? 

"It's no surprise that [Republican Carly] Fiorina is attacking me," Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., wrote in a recent fundraising pitch, "because she's so out of touch with California voters. ... She supports allowing people on the no-fly terrorist watch list to buy guns."

This is a line I've seen and heard repeatedly in the last month, and one that I expect to hear from many Democratic candidates this fall. At issue in the debate, and in recently proposed legislation: Should the government restrict the gun rights of people whose names appear on a secret list kept by the government?

The Government Accountability Office released new statistics in May, noting that persons on the terror watch list tried to make 1,228 gun purchases between 2004 and 2010, according to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) that gun dealers use. GAO reports that only 109 of those purchases were blocked, and only because the purchasers were felons, illegal aliens, under indictment, or insane.

That sounds terrible at first blush, and that's making it something of a cudgel for Boxer and others on the Left to use against skeptical Republicans. The Internet is abuzz with headlines like, "NRA, GOP minions defend terrorists' gun rights."

As alarming as it might sound at first blush, there is a small problem with curtailing people's rights just because their names appear on secret lists kept by the government: It's called the U.S. Constitution.

First, it guarantees that "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." Second, it provides that no one can be "deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." Third, it has always been understood to confer the presumption of innocence for those accused of crimes -- including terrorism and association with terrorists.

Even within that framework, our government already prevents gun purchases by felons (deprived by "due process of law"), fugitives and illegal aliens.

But if terrorists made 1,119 gun purchases over the last six years, then my first reaction is relief. By some miracle, we haven't seen a rash of shootings by Islamic fundamentalists. Only two incidents come to mind, and one is that of Maj. Nidal Hasan, who already had access to firearms in his position as an officer in the U.S. Army.

Then again, perhaps those gun purchasers weren't terrorists at all. I wonder how many of them are named "Rob Johnson." As just a small example of how hundreds of Americans have been wrongfully kept off airlines since 9/11, a 2006 edition of "60 Minutes" featured 12 men with that common name, none of whom were terrorists and all of whom had been mistaken for someone on a government terror watch list.

The Transportation Security Administration says on its Web site that that there are fewer than 400,000 names on the government's consolidated terror watch list, but those names apparently include common ones like Catherine Stevens, David Nelson and Ted Kennedy. And yes, that Ted Kennedy had to meet with the secretary of homeland security to clear his name -- a remedy to which few Americans on the list have access.

What's more, no one on the left should need to be told that even American citizens named Muhammed have rights. If you want to take them away, then work to repeal the Second Amendment. It's a more honest approach than this election year sloganeering about guns and terror watch lists.

David Freddoso is The Examiner's online opinion editor. He can be reached at dfreddoso@dcexaminer.com.

About The Author

David Freddoso

David Freddoso came to the Washington Examiner in June 2009, after serving for nearly two years as a Capitol Hill-based staff reporter for National Review Online. Before writing his New York Times bestselling book, The Case Against Barack Obama, he spent three years assisting Robert Novak, the legendary Washington... more
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