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ACLU, gun-rights groups unite against terrorist list weapons ban

ANNAPOLIS – The ACLU of Maryland joined gun-rights advocates Friday in opposing legislation that would bar the Maryland State Police from issuing handgun permits to people on the federal government’s Terrorist Watch List.

“The ACLU has long been concerned with the Terrorist Watch List and its subset, the No-Fly List, because they are so error-prone and violate basic due process rights,” the civil liberties group stated in written testimony to the House Judiciary Committee.

“Another important problem with the watch lists is that the government is making predictive judgments with them – that is, people who have never been charged let alone convicted of a crime are on the list because they might pose a threat,” the group added. “This is a perilous thing to do and guarantees a high risk of error. This is all the more reason for people to have due process rights to clear their name.”

The ACLU’s position puts it at odds Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh and liberal Democratic lawmakers who have co-sponsored the legislation, House Bill 1000 and Senate Bill 1040.

Frosh, in written testimony, called it common sense to enable the state police to withhold the state’s permission for terrorism suspects to lawfully possess weapons.

“There is simply no rationale for individuals suspected of terrorism to have access to firearms, and as a state we can take steps to prevent that from happening,” Frosh wrote. “HB 1000 will advance the goal of building a safer Maryland for its citizens by keeping weapons out of the hands of suspected terrorists.”

Gun-rights advocates echoed the ACLU of Maryland’s concern that the bill’s enactment would deny due process to individuals on the Terrorist Watch List, formally the Terrorist Screening Database.

“This particular bill forces the Maryland State Police to rely, in part, on a highly complex and terribly flawed federal watch-list system that requires absolutely no proof or even a reliable degree of reasonable suspicion of terrorist activity or association,” Joe Winter, president of the Washington County Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs Inc., stated in written testimony to the House committee. “The state of Maryland, not a collection of 19 distinctly separate federal agencies, should be solely responsible to a very high degree of integrity and accuracy when charged with determining the credibility of its citizens.”

‘Defies credulity’

The Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association stated in written testimony that “there are no true due-process safeguards within the [watch-list] system, as the ‘suspect’ has neither a chance to defend himself in a court of law nor a properly defined procedure for having any erroneous information removed from the list.”

John H. Josselyn, legislative vice president of the Associated Gun Clubs of Baltimore Inc., said the proposed law would not save lives.

“Exactly why any terrorist would feel the need to comply with Maryland’s carry permit law as a precondition to attacking and murdering dozens of people is difficult to fathom,” he stated in written testimony. “To believe that HB 1000 will prevent terrorist acts is a classic example of what is known as the Pollyanna Principle, whereby excessive optimism to the point of naiveté results in the inability to recognize the fact that true terrorists, like all criminals, have no regard for the law.”

But Ken Gude, a specialist on national security and counterterrorism, said barring terror suspects from legal access to firearms would promote public safety.

“There are limits on what can be done to prevent true lone wolf terrorist attacks,” Gude, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund stated in written testimony. “But it defies credulity that we spend billions on air transport security, including creating no-fly lists, yet still allow those suspected of involvement in terrorism to easily purchase weapons in any gun store in the United States. Preventing those suspected of involvement in terrorism from buying the weapons of mass murder is a common-sense security reform that is responsive to the threats we currently face.”

Del. Luke H. Clippinger, D-Baltimore City, is chief sponsor of HB 1000. Sen. Jim Rosapepe, D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel, is chief sponsor of SB 1040.

A hearing on the Senate bill is scheduled for March 16 in the Judicial Proceedings Committee.