Editorial: Only one sacred right, apparently
Republicans are up in arms about a proposal to stop weapons sales to suspected terrorists. They are right; the watch list is inadequate.
Republicans are quick to suggest that those suspected of terrorism should be stripped of their constitutional rights -- except, of course, for the constitutional right to keep and bear arms.
The right to petition for habeus corpus or confront your accusers? Ask Jose Padilla, the accused "dirty bomber" who spent years incommunicado in a South Carolina brig, about that.
The right to remain silent or consult an attorney? Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., just said the Obama administration made a terrible mistake informing the accused Times Square car bomber of his Miranda rights.
But when President Bush proposed blocking suspects on the terrorism watch list from buying weapons? That is simply un-American, Republican after Republican said.
And you know what? They were right. Those opposing President Obama's new attempt to impose similar restrictions are also right.
Individuals on the terrorist watch list have not been convicted or, in most cases, even accused of a crime. They should not be stripped of their constitutional rights simply because their names ended up on a government list.
The terrorist watch list contains the names of hundreds of thousands of individuals who might have some connection to terrorist organizations or terror suspects.
But stories abound of innocent people put on the list because of a bureaucratic foul-up or because their names are similar to those of genuine suspects.
The list would need to be narrowed substantially and based on far more solid information before it could legitimately be used to strip someone of the right to buy a gun.
But what of the real danger? During a hearing on the bill, a Government Accountability Office report came to light that found that 1,119 people on the list had bought weapons -- even explosives -- in the past six years.
As Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., said, if a suspect on the list bought a weapon and used it in an act of terror, "there would be blood on our hands."
There is an alternative. Do not bar those on the watch list from buying weapons, but implement a system to alert the Department of Homeland Security in real time when a weapon is purchased by anyone on the list.
Then, law enforcement officials can evaluate whether there is a genuine threat and take action to stop it.
Now, if Republicans can only be made to see that other constitutional rights and civil liberties deserve the same protection.