WASHINGTON, Nov. 23 (UPI) -- When I sauntered out into the hallway to pick up my copy of Thursday's Washington Post, a front-page story leapt off the page at me: "FBI Curbed in Tracking Gun Buyers."
The story explains how our anti-terrorism crusading attorney general, John Ashcroft, seems to employ the common sense of Jessica Simpson when it comes to implementing policies to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists.
Ashcroft is more than willing to leap tall buildings in a single bound if it will allow him to mine personal records in the name of thwarting the terrorist threat at home. When it comes to protecting Americans from terrorism through the use of the requirement that all federally licensed gun dealers to conduct background checks on their buyers, it's a different story.
According to the Brady Campaign, a pro-gun-control group named in honor of one of the people shot in the assassination attempt on President Reagan, Ashcroft has "misinterpreted the law regarding gun safety."
"Last year," the group says, "Ashcroft contradicted his legal counsel inside the Department of Justice, when he testified in front of Congress claiming that the FBI can't audit the background check system to determine if suspected terrorists bought guns. He now stands in the way of keeping the FBI from learning when and where suspected terrorists bought guns."
This combative attitude toward weapons that kill landing in the hands of the people who do comes from a man who is all too excited to declare suspected terrorists "enemy combatants," and haul them off to Guantanamo Bay without the benefit of such niceties as a lawyer and trial.
Why the discrepancy between the deference the attorney general shows to first and second amendment concerns? Three letters: NRA.
According to the pro-campaign finance reform Web site Opensecrets.org, pro-Second Amendment groups have given 85 percent of their campaign cash, a total of more than $17 million since 1990, to the Republicans.
It is also a little hard to forget the videotape that surfaced in 2000, where a high-ranking National Rifle Association official claimed in a campaign speech that, if Bush won, the NRA would be "working out of the White House."
And Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga., calls Democrats the party of special interests.
The crux of the current situation is this: We are told, correctly, by the president that we reside in a dangerous world where terrorists place a bulls-eye over Uncle Sam. E-mail can be read with a threshold of proof you couldn't limbo under and we hear reports that the government may monitor consumer purchases and reading preferences.
In a society where, sadly, the choice may be between giving up a few rights or having a weapon of mass destruction set off down the street, the former would seem to trump the latter. Shouldn't this same sacrifice of some freedoms also apply to gun owners?
Why would we not do all we can to keep guns out of the hands of those we deem to be dangerous or deranged? It is not like we are talking universal registration or licensing here, just the tracking of successful gun purchases by those who are on terrorist watch lists.
Which is more likely to protect the American people: the Justice Department knowing what brand of boxers a person buys or whether Osama bin Laden's associates are storing a cache of weapons in a neighborhood near you? Meanwhile, the so-called gun show loophole is alive and well.
At gun shows and flea markets populated by unlicensed sellers of guns, any malcontent, militiaman or murderer can, in theory, buy bundles of weaponry like they're shopping at an Afghan arms bazaar without submitting to any personal scrutiny. Such radicals as Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Mike DeWine of Ohio support the bill to shut down the practice that allows Ayman al-Zwahiri to waltz into a gun show and start making purchases off his wish list.
This is not, unfortunately, an exaggeration. Individuals with ties to al-Qaida and the militant group Hezbollah have been caught browsing local gun shows in the United States. And the manual "How Can I Train Myself for Jihad" found in the rubble of a terrorist training camp in Kabul recommended that members of al-Qaida living in the United States should try and "obtain an assault weapon legally, preferably AK-47 or variations," by taking advantage of the United States' lax gun laws.
You would think this would alarm people of all political stripes enough to forget politics for a moment and protect this country. In this spirit, the attorney general and the Justice Department have another chance to prove they actually get it. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., is sponsoring legislation to have the Justice Department tell law enforcement agencies "where and when each gun is bought."
If enacted into law, the Lautenberg proposal would do wonders in tracking down those who wish to do us harm even though it would force gun enthusiasts to forfeit a little of their privacy.
On Nov. 10, 2001, President Bush addressed the United Nations, saying, "We have a responsibility to deny weapons to terrorists and to actively prevent private citizens from providing them." I agree. Bush and Ashcroft should show some leadership and act to further protect us from al-Qaida murderers in our midst.
(Cliff Schecter is a Democratic political consultant and frequent contributor to the FoxNews Channel.)
(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues.)