In April of 2009, the Department of Homeland Security released a report entitled, “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment.”
The report detailed the rise in right-wing extremist activity in America that included, “groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single-issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.”
The report said that the "Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis defines 'rightwing extremism in the United States' as including not just racist or hate groups, but also groups that reject federal authority in favor of state or local authority."
The report was solid, factual, matter-of-fact, and an honest attempt by the DHS to start a discussion about a very real homegrown terrorist thread. And, because of that, it outraged Conservatives.
House Speaker John Boehner, reacting to a tsunami of calls and emails from viewers of Fox News, listeners to right-wing radio, and readers of right-wing websites, slammed the report.
In a very public statement, Boehner demanded that DHS chief Janet Napolitano provide an “explanation for why she has abandoned using the term ‘terrorist’ to describe those, such as al Qaeda, who are plotting overseas to kill innocent Americans, while her own Department is using the same term to describe American citizens who disagree with the direction Washington Democrats are taking our nation.”
The report received so much heat from the right that Napolitano was forced to withdraw it, although a similar report on left-wing extremism – radical and violent environmentalists, for example – drew no similar rebuke and was not withdrawn.
While kids like Aaron Schwartz face decades in jail, right-wing extremist groups have apparently been overlooked by the federal government.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that gun-toting members of far-right extremist groups are now coming out of the woodwork and murdering government officials.
On Saturday night, Texas district attorney Mike McLelland and his wife Cynthia were shot to death in their home in Kaufman County, Texas, becoming the latest victims in a recent string of shootings of government and law enforcement officials.
The deaths of McLelland and his wife come just two months after a Kaufman Country assistant district attorney was shot and killed, which led to suspicions that law enforcement officials were being target by a white supremacist group.
And, authorities are now looking into whether or not McLelland’s slaying is related to the shooting death of Colorado prisons chief Tom Clemons, who was shot and killed by a member of a white supremacist group just a few weeks ago.
While little is known yet over the circumstances in the McLelland shooting, the Denver Post reported this past Thursday that the gun used to shoot and kill Clemons was bought by a straw purchaser.
Clemons’ killer, Evan Ebel, was a white supremacist gang member and felon, who was barred under federal law from purchasing and possessing a gun.
So, Ebel had 22-year-old Stevie Marie Vigil go to a gun store for him, and legally purchase the gun that he used to kill Clemons.
Using a straw purchaser is one of the most common ways criminals get their hands on firearms, and this is mostly because straw purchasers face few if any punishments for their actions.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reports that straw purchasing of guns is the single most common method by which firearms move between the legal and illegal gun market.
Similarly, an ATF study showed that 46% of guns related to illegal gun trafficking involved straw purchasers.
When straw purchasers do get caught, like in the case of Stevie Marie Vigil, the penalties for legally purchasing a gun and then giving or selling it to someone else are extremely weak.
Speaking about the Clemons murder case, Brad Beyersdorf, spokesman for the ATF Denver field office, told the Denver Post that, “There’s little-to-no punishment for being a straw purchaser. Gang members know it, drug trafficking organizations know it.”
So how do we fix this major loophole, and stop the epidemic of straw purchasing firearms?
Let’s start treating guns like cars.
Had Stevie Marie Vigil purchased a cheap used car for a 14-year-old boy and given him the keys, and that boy then proceeded to run down and kill someone, Vigil would be facing an automatic charge of manslaughter or accessory to manslaughter in almost every state.
This is just common sense.
Yet there are no serious laws against putting a gun in the hand of another person, even if they use that gun to kill somebody. To the contrary, the NRA and gun manufacturers have made sure that any attempt at such serious felony laws are replaced by weaker misdemeanor laws.
Like cars, guns should be registered from the time they're manufactured to the time they're destroyed, so there's a detailed chain of ownership.
Similarly, anyone who owns a gun should be required to have liability insurance, so if they accidentally or intentionally injure or kill somebody, the victim or the victim’s family will receive monetary damages.
Just look at the Newtown tragedy.
If those 20 children had been murdered by a drunk or crazed driver, Geico or some other insurance company would be paying millions out to their families.
But because they were killed with guns, the victims’ families are receiving nothing, not even burial expenses, for undergoing one of the most unthinkable and horrifying tragedies imaginable.
Finally, anyone who wants to purchase a gun should have to have an operator’s license, like all car drivers do. And, they should have to undergo a gun proficiency test, similar to a driver’s test, to get that license.
We started car registration, licensing, and insurance back in the 1920s, when cars got fast enough and abundant enough that they started killing people. We realized we needed to put some accountability into the chain of ownership.
People may say that there's no right to have cars on roads in the Constitution, but they're wrong – it's in Article 1, Section 8, where Congress is given the specific power to raise and spend tax money to create roads. It became the law of our land years before the Second Amendment was passed.
No rights are absolute. We limit the right to drive with licensure. We limit the right to free speech with rules against yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre, and by limiting certain forms of pornography. These are all common-sense limitations, and it's time to put common-sense limitations on the right to own a gun.
With this simple step, when right-wing terrorists start to use “Second Amendment Remedies” to remove government workers they don't like, we'll at least be able to more easily track them back and hold them accountable. And some may even think twice before they begin building their own personal armories.