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President's Column

By David A. Keene, President

When It Comes To Gun Legislation, Read Beyond The Label

When I was growing up in the Midwest, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) brought charges against a Wisconsin firm that was netting and canning the abundant carp in our lakes and distributing its product to grocers as “Rock River Salmon.” These were guys who understood the importance of labeling to consumers.

Since then, I’ve discovered that politicians and carp salesmen have a lot in common. In Washington, labeling is everything. After 9/11, half of the legislation making its way through Congress was renamed to include “security” in its title on the assumption that in the near panic that followed the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, no one would dare vote against anything so labeled. My favorite was the renaming of legislation to increase farm subsidies as the “Agricultural Security Act of 2001,” but there were dozens of others.

It wasn’t a bad strategy in a body where very few legislators take the time to even read the bills on which they are asked to vote. So a number of bills that would have been summarily rejected in calmer times made it through Congress just because of creative labeling in a time of great public concern about national security.

The FDA would be after congressmen, if they were food producers, for making false claims and engaging in fraudulent advertising—but they aren’t. So it’s up to those affected by the “products” they peddle to look beyond the labels.

NRA and NRA-ILA analysts do this for us, combing through bills introduced in Congress, networking with gun-friendly staffers and members of both the House and Senate, and monitoring legislative proposals and amendments supported by enemies of Second Amendment rights like Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.Y., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. Our staff members go behind the labels to identify threats to the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, which may be inapparent to those who are taken in by innocuous labels or a cursory reading of complicated legislative language. This is an essential tool as President Obama and his cohorts in Congress work to implement their anti-gun agenda by working “under the radar,” as the president recently promised the Brady Center’s Sarah Brady.

There are dozens of examples of this strategy, but one of the most dishonest is the legislation first introduced by Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., in the House and by Sen. Lautenberg in the Senate to “prevent terrorists from buying guns.” H.R. 1506 and its companion bill in the Senate were labeled the “Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2009.” In fact, it was something else—a blatant attempt to exploit the public fear of terrorism within our borders to deny American gun owners their rights without resorting to the courts or due process.

NRA analysts immediately saw this for what it was and we opposed its passage, igniting furious attacks from Second Amendment opponents anxious to demonize and hopefully weaken our ability to speak for gun owners in Washington. They said they were shocked that NRA opposed their “reasonable” steps to keep dangerous firearms out of the hands of “known terrorists” on various government terrorist “watch lists,” prompting some lawmakers to question our judgment until we got them to look at the facts.

There are about 400,000 people on these watch lists. Nearly 95 percent of them are not U.S. citizens or legal residents—so, like felons, illegal aliens and those adjudged mentally ill, they are already prohibited from buying guns.

No one disagrees with restricting gun purchases to people in these categories, but these lists also contain the names of U.S. citizens who are included by mistake or because some mid-level bureaucrats decided to list them even though they are not and have never been under investigation for terrorist or other illegal activities. The authors of the bills complained that about 2,000 such people have actually applied for and purchased firearms over the course of the last few years and that the FBI hasn’t been able to do anything to prevent it.

Yet, under existing practice, when NICS checks are run on those purchasing firearms, their names are checked against these lists and if there are matches, the FBI is notified of the purchases. What the authors of this bill were actually saying was that those who bought firearms were U.S. citizens who had committed no crime and therefore, federal authorities had no evidence or reason to deny them their rights.

A proposal based on these bills was offered in May, in the form of an amendment by U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill.  When House Judiciary Committee members realized the bill amounted to little more than a ploy to pass legislation that would significantly increase the power of the federal government to deny rights to innocent Americans at the whim of a virtually unaccountable federal bureaucracy, the amendment didn’t make it out of committee. Still, it stands as an example of why we all have to look beyond the labels if we are to protect our rights from “under the radar” attacks.