New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's appeal to what he called "common sense" at a congressional hearing Wednesday morning failed to sway two Republican senators who said that giving the government the ability to block the purchase of guns by suspected terrorists would undermine the Second Amendment's right to bear arms.
"Shouldn't FBI agents have the authority to block sales of guns and explosives to those on the terror watchlists -- and deemed too dangerous to fly? I actually believe that they should," Bloomberg told senators. Federal law currently only allows the government to block guns sales for a very limited number of reasons, and being on that list is not one of them. (For more background, see Tuesday's article on the subject.)
"This common-sense legislation is not anti-gun -- it's anti-terrorist," chimed in Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), the sponsor of a bill that would close what Bloomberg has called a "terror gap."
But GOP Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina wouldn't go along.
Admitting that "at first blush" the bill "seems to be an obvious step that we should take," Collins said that many people on the FBI's watchlist don't belong there. "None of us wants a terrorist to be able to purchase a gun, but neither should we want to infringe upon a Constitutional right of law-abiding Americans," she said.
Graham described the bill as an instrument of those who would ban guns altogether. "We're talking about a constitutional right here," he said, explaining that he could not support a bill that would force "innocent Americans" to "pay the cost of going to court to get their gun rights back."
Graham wasn't nearly as concerned about rights when he launched into a disquisition on the treatment of American citizens accused of terrorism. "I am all into national security," he said. "I want them to stop reading these guys Miranda rights."
Like many of his fellow Republicans, Graham assailed the administration for respecting the constitutional rights of suspected terrorists, suggesting instead that they should be treated like enemies on the battlefield.
"Even if you're an American citizen helping the enemy, you should be seen as a potential enemy," he said, "not as someone who committed a crime in New York."
After the hearing, Bloomberg told reporters he had no problem with federal investigators reading Faisal Shahzad, the suspect in this weekend's Times Square bomb plot, his Miranda rights, saying that "our democracy is strong enough" for that.
As for the Second Amendment concerns, Bloomberg said in his testimony: "Our founding fathers did not write the Second Amendment to empower people who wanted to terrorize a free state; they wrote it to protect people who could defend 'the security of a free state.' Today, the security of our free state is being tested by terrorists."
A new Government Accountability Office report out today disclosed that from February 2004 through February 2010, individuals on the terrorist watchlist were involved in firearm or explosives background checks 1,228 times. Of those, 1,119, or 91 percent, were allowed to proceed because there were no legally disqualifying factors.
New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Shahzad had purchased a gun in Connecticut in March, shortly after returning from a trip to Pakistan. Officials found a 9mm pistol and ammunition in Shahzad's car. Shahzad was not put on the terror watchlist until Monday, the day before he was captured.
"It appears March is when he decided to put this plan in motion," Kelly said, noting that for a terror suspect to buy a gun "may well be an indicator of putting something catastrophic in motion."
Dan Froomkin is senior Washington correspondent for the Huffington Post. You can send him an e-mail, bookmark his page; subscribe to RSS feed, follow him on Twitter, friend him on Facebook, and/or become a fan and get e-mail alerts when he writes.