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Political Animal

Terrorism Scary, Guns Not

By Brian Morton | Posted 5/12/2010

One of these days, terrorists are going to figure it out.

So it turns out that Faisal Shahzad, the accused terrorist suspect in the failed Times Square bombing case, must have attended Pakistan's Beavis and Butthead School of Bomb-making. This goes to show you that, despite having a baccalaureate in a technical field and an MBA from the University of Bridgeport, it's harder than you think these days to put together a SUV WMD.

Because of Timothy McVeigh, it's more difficult to get weapons-grade fertilizer, and Shahzad clearly didn't have the long and varied experience with fireworks that every American middle- and high-school kid who's ever taken a trip to South of the Border has.

Yet someday the Taliban is going to figure us out, and it won't take all that much. Heck, if new reports are to be believed, they might already be on the cusp of it.

The one thing that Shahzad and the perpetrator of the last solo terrorism attempt have in common is they both have links to Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical militant Yemeni-American cleric who is becoming notorious for his online lectures advocating violent jihad against the United States. But al-Awlaki's last fifth columnist, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, managed to kill 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, before being captured.

The difference is, Hasan used guns.

It's funny--you'd think with all the movies, television, and weapons we've shipped all over the world, it wouldn't be hard to figure out what killing method Americans rely on most. Although with 20 years' worth of Stephen Cannell and Jerry Bruckheimer productions showing pretty orange explosions every time a car so much as runs into a phone pole or goes off a 10-foot embankment, it's understandable that everyone wants to make something go boom.

But ever since children were told that Davy Crockett shot a b'ar at the age of 3, guns have been The Real Thing here. And it's not like the NRA doesn't want terrorists to have them, either.

In 2001, after Sept. 11, the FBI rounded up thousands of men of Middle Eastern descent on no more than vague suspicion and swarthy skin tone, and held them without charges for days. But then-Attorney General John Ashcroft refused to run their names through the Brady background check system, saying that it would infringe upon their Second Amendment rights.

 The late Sen. Edward Kennedy asked Ashcroft point blank in a Dec. 6, 2001, hearing if the Justice Department would want the power to review gun records in the anti-terrorism fight, and Ashcroft said that he wasn't going to comment on a "hypothetical."

What is so funny here is that if al-Awlaki had the imagination of a scriptwriter for the Fox network's terrorism-and-torture fetish show 24, all he'd need to do to tie up right-wingers and the NRA in knots is to tell whatever hidden wacko moles he has left in the States to start stockpiling guns like a Michigan militia member and use them next time they want to cause a freakout.

Because it was made very clear over the Bush years: If you are a "terrorist," you have an automatic assumption of guilt. If you are a "gun-owner," you have the automatic presumption of innocence. Which is why Joseph Lieberman, the independent senator from the state of Crazy, is now sponsoring a bill to strip accused terrorists of their citizenship if they happen to be American, like Hasan, Shahzad, and even al-Awlaki (whom the Obama administration has already put on an international hit list, a troublesome development in itself, constitutionally).

Guns are as American as apple pie, but because the NRA has spent decades striking fear into members of Congress, like Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), they'd rather debate straw men than broach the subject of crossing the gun lobby, even against the possibility of terrorists. Because for them, terrorism may be scary in the abstract, but the NRA is terrifying at election time.

At a hearing last week for a bill that would keep people on the terrorism watch list (like Shahzad) from buying guns (which Shahzad had already done), the internal conflict was driving the NRA's elected minions crazy.

Graham resorted to the old "some people" argument, trying to make the issue about "banning handguns." And he and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) kept reiterating that "none of us wants a terrorist to be able to purchase a gun," while at the same time arguing against the ability to keep the government from finding out if a terrorist was purchasing a gun.

Guns are as American as the Constitution, and if you absolutely, positively have to kill someone, accept no substitutes. And if you're a terrorist, apparently the NRA wants to help you do it. Because we may be able to strip you of your life, your liberty, your property, or your citizenship. But heaven forbid we take your gun away. That would be a crime.

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The Fix (8/4/2010)

Police State (7/7/2010)

Funny Business (6/9/2010)

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