By Paul Helmke
The Washington Post reported Monday about a 2003 Secret Service report which indicates that its security checkpoints had been breached at least 91 times since 1980, including at least eight instances where the intruder reached the president or another subject of protection.
On Sunday, The New York Times reported on a number of serious threats leveled against President Obama since he took office, including one from a U.S. Marine who pleaded guilty to threatening to kill the President (as well as attempted armed robbery).
This servicemember had decided that his own interpretation of his military oath to protect the country required him to identify the President as a “domestic enemy,” and to take what he thought was appropriate action.
This same The New York Times article mentions that many suspects had “a history of violence or mental illness and easy access to guns and explosives.” Others wanted to see “a 50 cal in the head soon” for President Obama or were “practicing shooting skills” so that Obama could “follow in the steps of Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley and Kennedy.”
These stories should trouble us. We want security not only for the President and our top officials, but also for ourselves and our families. Yet as a nation we make it very easy for dangerous people to arm themselves.
For example, several events attended by President Obama this past summer featured protesters armed with assault rifles and semi-automatic pistols. At least one protester had a state-issued permit to carry a concealed weapon even though he had recently been released from jail.
The Fort Hood shooter had been issued a concealed carry permit by Virginia. This killer raised a number of red flags before the shooting, including several apparent contacts with a radical cleric “sympathetic” to Al Qaeda. Yet he was able to walk into a Texas gun store, pass a minimal computer background check, and easily arm himself with a “cop killer” pistol (capable of firing armor-piercing bullets) and formerly banned high-capacity ammunition magazines which allowed him to fire 20 rounds at a time without re-loading.
Even if the Fort Hood killer had been placed on the “Terrorist Watch List” because of his reportedly erratic behavior and connections to radical ideology, our weak gun laws would not have been an obstacle to his gun purchases.
While he then would have been blocked from boarding a commercial airliner, he still would have been allowed to buy as many firearms as he wanted. After 9/11, law enforcement is still prohibited from preventing individuals on the “Terrorist Watch List” from buying guns as long as they don’t have some disqualifying record in the system, such as a felony or domestic violence restraining order.
And now some elected officials actually want to make it easier for “mentally incapacitated” veterans to get guns. Legislation sponsored by Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.) would give immediate access to guns to over 100,000 veterans already found to be “mentally incapacitated, deemed mentally incompetent, or experiencing an extended loss of consciousness.”
Sen. Burr wants to take these individuals out of the “prohibited purchaser” category in the Brady background check system even though professional Veterans Affairs personnel made those competency determinations after hearing medical evidence and following a rigorous system which protects due process.
Making it harder for dangerous people to get guns should be part of our nation’s security policy. We should do all we can to protect our families and communities from gun violence, along with helping make it easier to protect the President from the next breach of security by someone with far worse intentions than gaining publicity for crashing a White House party.