When investigators discovered that Arizona gunman Jared Lee Loughner had been rejected by the Army (because of admitted drug use), it was just a matter of time before some politician connected the dots: Hey, let's require military recruiters to report anyone with a history of drug abuse to other federal agencies!
Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), come on down. Earlier this week, Mr. Schumer proposed that federal officials who learn of an individual's illegal drug use must report that information to the FBI. The admission would then go into a federal database, and be used to deny the individual the right to purchase a gun.
Noting that the alleged shooter in the Tucson massacre had admitted to military recruiters that he had used drugs on several occasions, Schumer said he is proposing to the Justice Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that the military be required to to notify federal officials about such admissions. He said such a process does not require new legislation.
Schumer said if military recruiters or other officials report admissions of drug use to a national database, those individuals could be denied a gun.
After Jared Loughner was interviewed by the military, he was rejected from the Army because of excessive drug use. Now by law, by law that's on the books, she should not have been allowed to buy a gun," Schumer told NBC.
"But the law doesn't require the military to notify the FBI about that and in this case they didn't. So I--this morning--I'm writing the administration and urging that be done and the military notify the FBI when someone is rejected from the military for excessive drug use and that be added to the FBI database."
Obviously, Schumer's "proposal" is little more than a thinly-veiled effort to restrict Second Amendment rights. But unfortunately, his suggestion may gain traction, given the fallout from the Tucson tragedy and the administration's own feelings on gun control. We can hear the arguments now: This is a reasonable proposal; it won't require any new laws and it might prevent a similar massacre in the future.
But even a cursory examination reveals that the Schumer suggestion is a horribly bad idea, on multiple levels. First, it places a undue burden on military recruiters, who talk to literally dozens of potential recruits during any given week. We're reasonably sure that Senator Schumer has no idea (read: doesn't care) how much work--and paperwork--is involved in processing a single person into the U.S. military.
Now, on top of all that effort, Schumer wants armed forces recruiters--who often work in a "one-deep" office, miles from the nearest military installation--to screen all of their contacts for illegal drug use and report it to the FBI. Memo to Mr. Schumer: in 21st Century America, most of the young men and women who express an interest in military service are ultimately rejected, for a variety of reasons. So, the recruiter must wade through his list of rejects, looking for individuals whose drug use might make them a future, crazed gunman.
Readers will also note that Senator Schumer didn't bother to define the level of illegal drug use that should be reported to the FBI. Why is that an issue? Because the U.S. military, thank God, has standards that are much tougher than society as a whole. By regulation, the armed services routinely reject applicants who fail a urinalysis test, or admit to the recreational use of marijuana (or other drugs) on more than 15 occasions. That's the way it should be. We don't want stoners (or drunks) handling classified information, or maintaining multi-billion dollar weapons systems.
But that doesn't necessarily mean those same individuals should be denied the right to own a gun. In many cases, that rejection by the military is a wake-up call, convincing young people to give up the weed or the booze and become responsible adults. Those individuals, with no arrest record or convictions on file, should not be penalized for what they told a military recruiter years ago. Under current laws, persons in that category are still eligible for gun ownership, and we see no reason to change.
Besides, the type of drug use in Lougher's case was not a clear predictor of his future rampage. We're guessing the marijuana didn't help, but no one can make the case that Lougher was pushed over the edge because of his drug use. Indeed, the type of activity that Lougher told the Army about is a misdemeanor offense in much of the country.
Ask yourself this question: Do we really need to create a national database of young people who have admitted to marijuana use, and send the FBI to pay them a visit--on the very remote chance they might buy a gun and go off the deep end? Personally, I'd rather see the FBI devote its resources to more important tasks, such as tracking down the thousands of individuals from terrorist havens who enter this country each year. That group poses a far greater menace than military rejects who admit to past recreational drug use and may choose to buy a gun some day.
Schumer's proposal creates civil liberties issues as well. Requiring military recruiters to report applicant's admitted drug use could be construed as a form of illegal domestic surveillance. There's also the matter of where the reporting might end. At some point, most recruits fill out a SF-86, which provides background information for their security clearance. Would Mr. Schumer like the military to hand over those as well? Compared to recruiter interview forms, the SF-86 is a veritable goldmine of information on past residences, associations and travels.
And while we're on that topic, what about notes from the Defense Investigative Service agents who interview the family and friends of those applying for a clearance? Did we mention that some of the claims made in those interviews are unsubstantiated? Now, imagine all that information making its way into a national database, accessible to legions of bureaucrats and available for all sorts of purposes. Gee, whatever happened to that supposed right to privacy that the left keeps harping about?
If it's any consolation, the Schumer proposal is still a ways from becoming a legal requirement. But don't discount that possibility, since it can be implemented without new legislation. Stroke of the pen, law of the land, as the Clintonistas used to say.
ADDENDUM: Hard-core libertarians and the folks at NORML should not interpret this as an endorsement of legalizing drugs. Far from it. We still support the "zero tolerance" policy of the U.S. military and wish the same standard could be applied to military recruits. Unfortunately, the armed services have elected to tolerate certain levels of recreational drug use among prospective enlistees, due to the widespread use of marijuana among those in the primary recruiting cohort (18-25 year-olds).