Political violence is not an abstract concept in America, as a series of incidents this year has dramatized. The Department of Homeland Security has warned the nation that a dramatic increase in right-wing extremism since the election of President Obama increases the potential for domestic terrorism. The number of armed militias in America has increased a staggering 200% since 2008.
Recently, the U.S. Congress looked at why those on the FBI’s “Terrorist Watch List” can be prevented from boarding a plane, but not from purchasing firearms. Indeed, experience has shown that terrorists have little or no problems acquiring virtual arsenals of firearms in America, often legally. Something that has flown beneath the public radar, however, is how easy it is for terrorists to obtain permits to carry concealed handguns.
In March, nine members of the “Hutaree,” a Michigan-based militia group, were arrested for allegedly plotting to kill a law enforcement officer and then ambush police at the subsequent funeral with guns and explosives. Federal agents found a cache of firearms (including fully-automatic machine guns and unregistered short-barreled rifles), a variety of explosives, and more than 148,000 rounds of ammunition at just one of the homes they searched. Additionally, according to public records made available by the Ohio Sheriff’s office, at least two of the Hutaree members charged—Kristopher T. Sickles and Jacob J. Ward—had legally obtained concealed handgun permits in Ohio (most of the other charged members live in Michigan where the public is prohibited from accessing such records). Judge Victoria A. Roberts ordered the militia’s members to surrender their concealed handgun permits to authorities in a decision delivered on May 3.
Self-proclaimed “Christian warrior” Kristopher Sickles had openly shared his desire to initiate a Holy War against the government. He gained national attention in 2008 with a sequence of YouTube videos under the alias of “Pale Horse.” The videos display Sickles dressed in military fatigues, wearing a camouflaged balaclava over his face, cradling a firearm, and using a voice modulator. In one video he calls on Americans to arm themselves against their government. Sickles also produced two short films. The first, "Dement Incarnate," features a serial killer who is depicted reveling in the slaughter of a young child. The second film, "American Jihad," depicts a Michigan-based military group that brutally tortures and beheads a businessman. These videos and films were widely viewed online and “Pale Horse” even appeared on Alex Jones’ radio show.
The Hutaree are not the first members of a terrorist cell to acquire permits to carry concealed handguns in their communities. On September 25, 2009, authorities arrested and charged seven men for plotting an attack against the U.S. Marine Corps base in Quantico, as well as conspiring to provide material support to terrorists abroad. Three of the terrorists charged—Dylan Alexander Boyd, Daniel Patrick Boyd and Anes Subasic—were legally issued concealed handgun permits in the state of North Carolina. Subasic obtained his permit despite numerous outstanding international warrants for his arrest in Serbia. “Homegrown jihadi” Daniel Boyd also had an international criminal record. Boyd moved to Pakistan in 1989 and became involved with the Afghan militant group Hezb-e-Islami. In 1991 an Islamic Court tried Daniel for a suspected bank robbery where he allegedly stole $3,200, fired a handgun at bank officials, and fled. The sentence was eventually overturned on appeal after Boyd served several months of incarceration and hard labor.
Why these men—with their connections to terrorist groups and violent histories—were able to obtain permits to carry concealed handguns in public remains unknown. A simple Google search could have turned up much, or all, of the evidence documented above.
What is clear is that a majority of states in the U.S. make it far too easy for dangerous individuals to obtain concealed handgun permits. 37 states (including North Carolina, Michigan and Ohio) are “Shall-Issue” states that require a resident to undergo an instant computer background check and take a one-day safety and training class (if there is any training requirement at all) to obtain a permit. Law enforcement officials in these states are given no discretion to deny a permit if an applicant satisfies these basic criteria, even if they uncover additional disturbing background information about him/her. Three states (Alaska, Arizona, and Vermont) require no permit whatsoever to carry a concealed handgun.
The featured speaker at this year’s National Rifle Association (NRA) convention, Fox News host Glenn Beck, demonstrated the organization’s (misplaced) fears about terrorism when he stated, “God forbid, there's another Timothy McVeigh, and God forbid, that guy has in his wallet an NRA card.” Beck might have added, “And God forbid he has a permit to carry a concealed weapon,” given the NRA’s overwhelming support for liberal carry laws. Not to mention that the NRA has also vigorously opposed efforts to prohibit individuals on the Terrorist Watch List from buying guns. Washington Post writer Dana Milbank recently noted that if the standard is “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists,” then “NRA chief Wayne LaPierre should be just a few frequent-flier miles short of a free ticket to Gitmo right about now.”