"A Troubling Precedent"
In March of this year, we published "Explaining the Objections to Background Checks." Our bottom line (supported by recent examples) was that, throughout the history of gun control, laws put in place with assurances of being reasonable concessions for safety swiftly became abused tools of control, subjugating a Constitutional right to the whims of politicians. Now, it would seem that the media is beginning to share those concerns, albeit for entirely different reasons.
According to Politico magazine, some journalists are "sounding the alarm" over a 2013 Presidential directive, which allows the Secret Service to mandate that any member of the media "who may need access to a secure area" (emphasis ours) during this summer's upcoming national conventions first be subjected to background check.
BuzzFeed Washington Bureau Chief John Stanton had some strong words on the matter, stating, "It creates a logistical burden, a troubling precedent for their ability to have almost a de facto say in who is qualified to be a reporter at these events. What if they use this as precedent to extend to other campaign events or any government events?" He further expressed concern that reporters who have been arrested while covering other stories may have that criminal history used to disqualify them from attendance.
We can empathize with Mr. Stanton's outrage and his fears of government abusing its authority to limit our exercise of Constitutional rights. Gun owners have been living with those feelings for decades - the insult of presumed guilt; the worries about having rights denied because something from our past is "reclassified" as a prohibitive offense; the dismissive response of "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear." Of course, we have also had an unsympathetic media often using their First Amendment rights to undermine the "need" for the Second Amendment - something Mr. Stanton needn't worry about.
Perhaps this is a fleeting opportunity for Mr. Stanton and others to feel some empathy and evolve their position. While this sense of righteous indignation is fresh, let's overlay the experience of buying a firearm onto being a member of the press.
Imagine you've been invited to cover the first debates for the upcoming Presidential election. You're a veteran reporter and have covered these before - hell, you attended one just last month - but this time you need to submit to a background check. You chafe a little at the insult of presumed guilt, but are chastised for your objections. After all, it's barely an inconvenience for you, and if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.
The wait takes considerably longer than you thought - days, in fact. It seems that a lot of "you media types" are seeking access to those debates and NICS is pretty overloaded. Having the system down for maintenance and upgrades over last weekend certainly didn't help, either. Finally, you hear back - and are shocked to find you've been denied.
It seems you were accused of "hate speech" back in college. It was an incident you barely remember - you weren't even arrested much less convicted of anything, and were exonerated by the Board of Trustees - but apparently just having that accusation leveled against you is enough to prohibit you from media relations. Surely, you can clear your name in time for the debate but... there's no appeal process. You've even called the FBI directly - and they told you they wouldn't help you. Not couldn't, but wouldn't.
How can this be happening? You're an American citizen with a Constitutionally protected right to express yourself "through publication and dissemination... without interference, constraint, or prosecution by the government." It says it in damned the Bill of Rights! How can that just be denied without recourse?
This is not a far-fetched scenario - at least, not if you're a gun owner.
- In several states over the last few years, people who spent their adult lives being able to simply buy a gun from a friend or neighbor without benefit of a background check can no longer do so. Overnight, they were compelled to use a licensed dealer to ensure any future transactions are approved by the government.
- In many states, mere accusations of domestic violence - or, in CT, the filing of a temporary restraining order, without benefit of testimony, evidence, or criminal charges - are enough to add a gun owner to the "prohibited person" category.
- Just this week, attorney Stephen Stamboulieh filed suit against the US government on behalf of man whose firearm purchase was denied due to a decade-old, non-violent misdemeanor charge. Despite the man having provided documentation clarifying his record and establishing his eligibility, the FBI has flatly refused to update NICS. In fact, they have stopped processing appeals altogether, citing insufficient manpower to handle all background check requests - and leaving a citizen with no way to correct his erroneous "prohibited" status, indefinitely preventing him from legally purchasing another firearm.
"It creates a logistical burden, a troubling precedent...." We couldn't agree more, Mr. Stanton. Welcome to our world.