As we’ve reported before, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), encouraged by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, wants to prohibit anyone on the FBI’s terrorist watchlist from possessing a firearm. Yet, the list and its criteria are secret, and Lautenberg’s bill would criminalize the exercise of a constitutionally protected right while denying a person the opportunity to clear himself of accusations in a fair and open hearing before a court of law. Even today, thousands of people who aren’t terrorists cannot prevent the list from misidentifying them, causing them delays and embarrassment when trying to board commercial aircraft.
It’s one thing when an adult gets the run-around at an airport, because he or she has a name identical or similar to someone the FBI is watching. As the American Civil Liberties Union has pointed out, the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) “automatic selectee” list -- its list of people who are not permitted to board an aircraft without being given the once-over by the agency’s machines and uniformed, latex-gloved personnel -- is based on people’s names, not on physical factors like age.
But when the system is so unorganized that it cannot distinguish a kid from a terrorist, what’s going on here? Yesterday, the New York Times reported that for the last six or seven years, one of Lautenberg’s constituents -- eight-year-old New Jersey Cub Scout Michael “Mikey” Hicks -- hasn’t been able to get on a plane without being patted down like your average neighborhood hubcap thief with his palms on the hood of a police cruiser and a nightstick between his legs. Repeatedly mistaken for someone on the FBI’s terrorist watchlist since he was two years old, Mikey’s encounters with the federal government have consisted of, as his mother puts it, “Up your arms, down your arms, up your crotch, someone is patting your 8-year-old down like he’s a criminal.”
To say that the situation is ironic is a gross understatement. The government can’t or won’t get Mikey’s situation straightened out. And he isn’t alone. The Times says that of nearly 82,000 travelers who have applied through the Department of Homeland Security to get their names cleared from the watchlist during the last three years, 25,000 are still waiting.
Yet, the government failed to add to the TSA’s “no-fly list” the self-proclaimed al Qaeda-trained Nigerian Islamist fanatic who allegedly smuggled military high explosives aboard a plane bound for Detroit on Christmas Day last year and almost blew the plane to kingdom come. As the White House report on the incident concluded, there was enough information to have placed him on the “no-fly list;” he was already in the government’s international terrorist identities database (the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, or TIDE). But, the government failed to recognize that he had a U.S. travel visa (which it could have revoked) because it had misspelled his name.
TSA can spell “Mikey,” however. Despite efforts by the boy’s parents and their congressman to get TSA to straighten out the error, the delays and pat-downs continue. Meanwhile, other non-terrorists tired of their airport delays have been able to get off TSA’s radar screen by changing their names or deliberately misspelling their names when purchasing a ticket.
Irrespective of how this relates to Second Amendment issues, we think -- and more and more people are likely to agree -- that while our fellow Americans in federal service have prevented virtually all terrorist attacks in the U.S. since the September 11 attacks, numerous problems with the watchlist apparatus remain and it is long past the time that these problems should have been corrected.
Mikey’s case, however, serves to remind us of the potential ramifications for the Second Amendment, if the watchlist is used by the likes of Lautenberg and Bloomberg to their nefarious ends.