Monthly Archives: June 2016

On Guns and FBI Investigations

I’ve seen a meme floating around lately that starts something like this:

If you’re under investigation by the FBI, then you shouldn’t be able to buy a gun.

It’s generally posted by someone wanting to defend gun rights, and followed up with a quip about how Hillary is also under FBI investigation and therefore shouldn’t be allowed to run for President. The meme is funny, but rather useless, because it can easily be used to make multiple points on multiple sides of multiple arguments. It has no ground truth. Most importantly, it seems to imply that there’s a group of people advocating that we start taking away rights based on whether you’re under investigation for… well, anything.

While I don’t like the idea of allowing people we know are potential terrorists to purchase firearms, I also don’t like the idea of allowing the executive branch of the government to take away someone’s constitutional rights simply because they’re “under investigation”.

If you think about it, the only branch that has the power to suspend someone’s constitutional rights on an ongoing basis is the judicial branch. Sure, the police or the FBI (executive branch) can arrest you and hold you, but only for a limited time, and only with Judicial oversight. They can’t take away your right to speak your mind, your right to worship, your right to vote, or your right to legal counsel just because they think you might be a “bad guy”. Some of the aforementioned rights can be taken away if you’re convicted of a crime, but 1) only after a trial or a guilty plea, and 2) even then, the courts are very conservative in what they take. Even those in prison are allowed freedom of religion, though they obviously can’t choose their place of worship.

To allow the government to deny you your rights simply on the basis of an investigation is to take a great leap down the road to tyranny. Think about what the term “under investigation by the FBI” implies – the FBI thinks you might have broken the law, or that you might be about to break the law. They’re investigating you because they don’t have the evidence to prove it. An investigation mean’s they’re looking for evidence, not that they have any, and they can keep investigating you as long as they want. To say that someone shouldn’t be able to buy a gun because they’re under FBI investigation is to say that you should be denied your constitutional rights simply because the government is looking for evidence that you broke the law.

I think there probably is a fair way to ensure that potential terrorists can’t buy or own firearms, but it’s going to involve a higher standard than “under investigation”, and it’s going to require action from Congress and oversight from the federal courts.