As often happens with complex issues, NRA’s position on Sen. Rand Paul’s defeated PATRIOT Act amendment is being mis-reported by those who either don’t understand the facts, or prefer their own version of “facts.”
This amendment was rejected by 85 Senators, which included many of the strongest Second Amendment supporters in the U.S. Senate. Â Unfortunately, Senator Paul chose not to approach us on this issue before moving ahead. His amendment, which only received 10 votes, was poorly drafted and could have resulted in more problems for gun owners than it attempted to fix. For this reason, the NRA did not take a position on the amendment.
To be more specific about the amendment and its problems, the amendment would have prohibited use of PATRIOT Act legal authority for any “investigation or procurement of firearms records which is not authorized under [the Gun Control Act].” There have been no reports of the current PATRIOT Act being abused with respect to firearms records, however supporters suggested a far-fetched scenario in which every firearms sales record in the country–tens or hundreds of millions of documents dating back to 1968–could be sought. Â Again, we nor anyone else is aware of any case in which this authority has been used to abuse gun owners. Â (In fact, published reports indicate that few of these orders are ever sought for any reason.)
In particular, the amendment appeared to be aimed at so-called “section 215 letters”–orders from the FBI requiring the disclosure of “tangible things” such as records and documents.
Under the current PATRIOT Act, an application for this type of order with respect to firearms sales records has to be approved no lower than the director or deputy director of the FBI, or the Executive Assistant Director for National Security. Â The application is made to a federal judge based on “a statement of facts showing that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the tangible things sought are relevant to an authorized investigation … to obtain foreign intelligence information not concerning a United States person or to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.” Â The judge has the power to modify the order and must direct the use of “minimization procedures” to protect the privacy of Americans.
If the Paul amendment were adopted, the FBI would have used other ways to access whatever firearms records it might need for intelligence or anti-terrorism investigations. This is especially troublesome for gun owners.
This would result in United States Attorneys simply demanding the same records through grand jury subpoenas, which require no judicial approval before issuance. Fighting a subpoena after the fact can be very costly and carries legal risks of its own, including possible charges for obstruction of justice.
Even worse, the government would have used the Gun Control Act’s provision that allows the Attorney General to “inspect or examine the inventory and records of [a licensee] without … reasonable cause or warrant” during a criminal investigation. Â That means by simply characterizing its activities as a “criminal investigation,” it would enter a licensee’s premises and demand these records without “reasonable cause or warrant”–in other words, without judicial oversight of any kind, and without any of the procedural limits imposed by the PATRIOT Act.
Therefore, given all of these potential problems for gun owners, the NRA could not support this poorly drafted amendment.
One reason I didn’t pay much attention to the Paul Amendment was because it seemed like trying to fix an issue that didn’t really exist. What NRA appears to be worried about, if I may read the tea leaves a bit, is that this is just going to give the feds ideas, while still leaving open many other, much easier channels by which they could accomplish the same thing. In other words, it would appear that the Paul Amendment wouldn’t actually fix anything.
15 thoughts on “NRA’s Statement on the Paul Amendment”
“There have been no reports of the current PATRIOT Act being abused with respect to firearms records, however supporters suggested a far-fetched scenario in which every firearms sales record in the countryâ€“tens or hundreds of millions of documents dating back to 1968â€“could be sought.”
IOW, the Paul amendment is unnecessary because the Feds have shown that they can be trusted on guns.
“If the Paul amendment were adopted, the FBI would have used other ways to access whatever firearms records it might need for intelligence or anti-terrorism investigations. This is especially troublesome for gun owners.”
IOW, the Paul amendment is useless because the Feds have shown that they are so untrustworthy on guns that this would be insufficient to stop them.
Of course the real reason for the NRA’s lack of action was this:
“Unfortunately, Senator Paul chose not to approach us on this issue before moving ahead.”
IOW, he violated the unwritten rule that all pro-gun laws have to go through the NRA. This is really about preserving the NRA’s de facto monopoly on pro-gun activity. Rand Paul was an unacceptable competitor and needed to be squashed.
It’s not that they are trustworthy on guns, it’s that the Patriot provisions place a significant burden on getting that data through those channels. A much higher burden than exists to get them through other channels which Paul’s Amendment didn’t address.
In that case, why isn’t the NRA trying to pass legislation blocking those other channels? Surely you understand that the Feds will take the easiest route to get that data, and if other channels are easier to use than the Patriot Act, then those easy routes need to be closed off, no?
You’re asking why they haven’t repealed the Gun Control Act of 1968. That’s where those provisions come from. ATF can walk into a dealers premises and demand all their 4473s. That’s perfectly legal under GCA ’68 if it’s under the guise of a criminal investigation. They don’t even need a warrant to do that.
Regardless, Paul’s amendment would have been one small extra hurdle for federal agents to have to go over. It doesn’t hold water that federal agents, who we are told aren’t using the Patriot Act to get firearms data, would suddenly start using the GCA to get it when Paul’s amendment passed. If the GCA route is easier, it’s already being used and Paul’s amendment is useless but harmless–except for feeling out just how pro-gun the Senators *really* are. If the GCA route is harder, then we have made clear progress if we pass it.
And I’m sorry, but color me unimpressed by the fact that the 85 included supposedly strong 2A types. If they were really committed to 2A, they would know the issue well enough not to have to have the NRA holding their hands and telling them how to vote.
My suggestion, Sebastian, is that you question the reasons given. The GOP establishment is clearly in love with the Patriot Act, and I suspect they threatened the NRA with anti-gun legislation if they supported the Paul amendment. I note that a lot of the Bushies have been jumping on the anti-gun bandwagon lately. After all the hard work we’ve done, they’re now throwing 30 years of hard-fought progress on this civil rights issue down the drain.
kenno271 makes a good point about support for the Patriot Act–while Bush was in office, mostly the far-left attacked it; now that Obama is increasingly learning to like the act, mostly the libertarian- and far-right is attacking it (some on the left, too, but not nearly as many since the changing of the guard.) We’re such saps, it seems we’ll fall for divide and conquer tactics every time.
It think useless but harmless is an accurate description, which is why I would expect NRA not to take a position on it. I don’t expect them to expend their political capital on such bills.
I am beginning to think that saving political capital is pointless. It seems to me that widespread confiscation will occur within the next few years regardless. The Katrina gun confiscation, and the demonization of Sarah Palin were a dry run for what’s coming. All the time we were gloating about how defunct the antigun groups were, we failed to note the growth of the much bigger antigun group–the Demoncratic Party.
Three years from now, the two-thirds who don’t own guns will be having drug-fueled sex parties to celebrate the mass murder of the one-third who do.
kenno271 – are you trying to make me retract support for your earlier comment or is that last state an effort at satire? Seriously, “widespread confiscation” from the armed by the unarmed? Good luck with that.
Maybe it’s just my depression talking. It’s just that this makes me think we’ve gained nothing for all our efforts. By now the GOP should be able to defeat Democrats by digging up a half-assed negative remark about guns in 1967. Instead we have them trying to push Mike Castle on us.
Also, where are the books celebrating our hard-fought victories over the Clinton anti-gun pogrom? This was a historic civil rights victory, yet it’s been written out of history.
While I respect the NRA’s vast expertise, I share Rand Paul’s instincts. Any government that conducts Project Gunwalker, and has its footsoldiers grope children at the airport, has lost the benefit of the doubt. Also, as FISA courts are secret, how would we know whether or not the PATRIOT Act has been used against the Second Amendment in some way, even if to passively piece together a gun registry? If Rand Paul’s effort is ‘poorly drafted,’ I’d like to see a revision. Also, I’m unhappy how Paul’s efforts have been given short shrift by the Senate GOP leadership.
The issue was Paul’s amendment, and the retort is why isn’t the NRA trying to close all the other avenues to access firearms records? Uh, really, that’s not a rebuttal of the NRA position on the amendment.
The ten who voted for the Paul amendment:
Senator John Barrasso (R-WY)
Senator Max Baucus (D-MT)
Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC)
Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY)
Senator Dean Heller (R-NV)
Senator Mike Lee (R-UT)
Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS)
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY)
Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL)
Senator Jon Tester (D-MT)
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