May 20th, 2009
07:10 PM ET

Guns, Plastic and Guantanamo Detainees

Program Note: Tune in tonight to hear more from Jeffrey Toobin tonight on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/05/20/house.guns/art.capitolbuildings.gi.jpg]

Jeffrey Toobin
CNN Senior Legal Analyst

Today the House gave Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) his way when it passed the gun measure he attached to the credit card bill. (The Senate passed it Tuesday.) The provision allows visitors to national parks to carry loaded weapons if the weapons would be legal in the rest of the state. Bottom line: Both plastic-carrying and pistol-packing Americans get new protections under the legislation headed to President Obama’s desk.

In a written statement, Sen. Coburn said he wanted park visitors to be able to defend themselves against crime. We’ll have to take him at his word, but we can’t help noting that National Parks have some of the lowest crime rates in the United States.

Supporters of the gun provision also argued the amendment eliminates confusion about where gun owners can carry their weapons. Here’s what they’re talking about: Starting in the 80s, park visitors were allowed to bring guns inside parks only if they were dismantled or unloaded and stored in a car trunk. That federal rule applied even in states where people could carry a loaded gun in other public places. In January, just before leaving office, President Bush overturned the ban on loaded weapons in national parks. But in March, a district judge struck down his move, pending a required environmental impact study. Today, the tables turned again, producing a high-five moment for President Bush and gun lobbyists.

So does this open the door for the gun lobby to push for even greater gains? Will hospitals and schools remain off-limits to loaded guns? It’s an open question. In a well-known case from 1994, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal law barring guns within a certain distance of schools. The conservative majority said these kinds of laws were a state issue, not a federal issue.

Complicating matters further, there is last year’s landmark gun control decision. Just shy of a year ago, the Supreme Court justices, in a 5-4 decision, ruled that a sweeping ban on handguns in Washington D.C. violated the Second Amendment right to bear arms. With that decision, the justices raised the question of whether any kind of gun control is constitutional under the court’s new reading of the Second Amendment.

The House passed the gun provision with the support of 174 Republicans and 105 Democrats. They’ve given us a lot to talk about tonight on 360.

So have their colleagues in the other chamber.

In an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 90-6, the Senate passed a measure to prevent Guantanamo detainees from coming to the U.S. (A similar amendment has already passed in the House.) It’s a blow to President Obama, who said he would close the Guantanamo Bay facility by Jan. 22, 2010. The Senate wants Mister Obama to spell out exactly what he will do with the detainees once the facility closes. At the same time, many are making it clear that they don’t want the detainees anywhere near their communities, ever. Period. Why not? According to Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the country isn’t set up to handle terrorist detainees. “We don’t have the facilities for it,” he said. “Nowhere does.”

Reality check: Convicted shoe bomber Richard Reid, blind sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman and Oklahoma City bombing mastermind Timothy McVeigh were all housed in U.S. prisons. What’s more, no one has even tried to escape from a super-maximum security U.S. prison. The math doesn’t add up either. Guantanamo Bay is the most expensive prison in the world, considering it’s in Cuba and we have to import every single quart of milk that goes there.

There are other reasons at play in this debate. Some believe that U.S. criminal courts aren’t adequate for trying suspected terrorists because of concerns about intelligence breaches. There are also concerns that once the detainees are here, they could sue the U.S government more easily. And many are worried about housing them with other prisoners, who might make willing terrorist recruits.

We’ll be talking about all of this tonight. See you then.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Guantanomo Bay • Gun Control • Jeffrey Toobin • Raw Politics
soundoff (25 Responses)
  1. GH

    Good thing I declared bankruptcy this past winter. Otherwise, if I was late on a credit card payment, the bank might've had me arrested, escorted into a national park and shot!

    May 21, 2009 at 6:54 pm |
  2. Roger

    It's now President Obama, not just "Mister" Obama... He inherited this mess from the worst president ever, but I never saw you refer to that one as Mister Bush or the idiot from Crawford? As our new President is trying to correct a number of horrible situations left from the last one you should give him at least the give him the respect you did the last administration without warrant.

    May 20, 2009 at 8:40 pm |
  3. Brian A

    Please try to keep an open mind on this issue. To get a permit to carry a concealed weapon, you cannot have a violent criminal history, period. If you can legally have it at the bank, the mall, and walking around town, what is suddenly going to make you a threat by entering a national park? Restricting where permit holders can legally carry is an ineffective solution to a problem that doesn't even exist. Check the statistics, permit holders are responsible citizens that are many times less likely than average americans to commit a crime. There are many documented instances, unfortunately largely unreported, of permit holders preventing crimes by protecting themselves and others.

    May 20, 2009 at 8:38 pm |
  4. Jim in Florida

    Toobin billed as a "legal analyst". I love it. He's just another left wing lawyer. God knows we have an over abundance of those.

    Analyze this Jeffrey, since you seem to be lacking in analyst skills when it comes to national security.

    Remember the blind sheik, since you bothered to mention him. How many terrorists took uo his cause? How many attacks were carried out in his name? Ahhh, I see, forgot about that part of it didn't we.

    It's not about whether or not they can escape from a max security prison, Simpleton. You insult the reading public by making that the centerpiece for your argument. Why, those boys can't escape, so there is no harm in housing them here. Goodness, how naive can a "legal analyst" get?

    Had to mention Tim McVeigh huh. It's a favorite ploy of the left – the buzzword – McVeigh. Hey, Jeffrey, last time I checked there weren't nations full of McVeighs wanting to destroy America. Yes, there are those of McVeigh's ilk out there, but let's be sensible and realize the Muslim extremists far outnumber the ,McVeigh extremeists. Your attempt to equate the 2 thrests is again naive or possibly you are being intellectually dishonest, a favorite ploy of left wing lawyers.

    Using your same logic you had better hope a left wing "legal anaylst" never blows anything up. You guys will have to run for cover then. You'll all be branded terrorists. Well, isn't that what you are attempting to do when you use McVeigh. He was right wing so all right wingers are terrorists huh?

    Do us all a favor, stick to something you have a chance to know something about. National Security isn't that something.

    May 20, 2009 at 8:31 pm |
  5. suzy

    Once upon a time Manson was convicted and sentenced to death. Then the courts said no to the death penalty and through a quirk of law Manson was available for parol. If you bring the detainees to the US, we, as citizens, have no idea what the courts, or possibly the Congress, might enact or undue. Some small provision in new legislation might go unnoticed, or its consequences unpredicted, until the courts let all of the detainees loose on the streets because of a technicality. They won't have to escape. We'll turn them loose.

    May 20, 2009 at 8:30 pm |
  6. Linus

    The Coburn amendment also applies on National Wildlife Refuges (not only National Parks); is broader than the "ban" Bush overturned (which was related to concealed firearms, not all firearms like the Coburn amendment); and can complicate the ability to prevent wildlife poaching (before possession of prohibited firearm was enough to violate regulations and help prove poaching; now the government must prove the use of the firearm during poaching).

    May 20, 2009 at 8:28 pm |
  7. Martin

    There is no such thing as a hospital or school off-limits to loaded guns. Some are off-limits to law-respecting individuals who would like to carry, rather than leave a gun in an unguarded parking lot.

    The guns themselves are not off-limits. Nor are the non-law-respecting individuals who carry them there with the intent of intimidating, robbing, or killing.

    Responsible people should be allowed to defend themselves against irresponsible people. As crime increases in this country, it is those who infringe on this civil right that are to blame for leaving us defenseless.

    May 20, 2009 at 8:24 pm |
  8. Pruitt Holcombe

    I wish they would simply amend the constitution and get rid of the second amendment. A total weapon ban would be a good thing. The conservative and NRA arguments for looser gun control laws are flimsy at best. "People need guns with them at all times to protect them from other people with guns." Pathetic. If the government passed gun control laws and actually seriously enforced them, the problem would go away. Right now, in times of joblessness and desperation, the last thing people need are guns.

    May 20, 2009 at 8:23 pm |
  9. Rob in MO

    The worst criminals imaginable are effectively imprisoned in the US, murderers, rapists, domestic terrorists, pedophiles, etc. We can certainly handle a few dozen more prisoners, none of whom have been convicted of anything, and some of whom may be completely innocent of any wrong-doing. I can understand the Republicans doing this as a partisan ploy, but it is disappointing to see so many Democrats stampeded by hysteria into such a stupid action.

    May 20, 2009 at 8:17 pm |
  10. PJ Yost

    The question here isnt where we house these enemy combatants. That isnt the point. During previous wars we have had POW camps here in the US. The point is that we shouldnt confer ANY of our constitutional rights upon these people because they didnt commit their actions here in the US. These are people who chose to engage in combat against our forces in a time of war. That means we put them in an appropriate facility and keep them there until the war ends. They dont get a trial, they arent criminals. We are required only to notify the Red Cross of their status as prisoners of war and treat them accordingly. That means no more Abu Ghraib type treatment. But it doesnt mean they should have access to our legal system nor to be housed here if a better place (like Gitmo) is available for use.

    May 20, 2009 at 8:13 pm |
  11. Clint

    First I want to say that I think your one of the high points on CNN. You cover many different stories but seem to be fairly open minded or at least willing to hear both sides of an argument. Anyway, keep up the great work.

    As for the gun laws addressed in this story, I think this is perfectly fine. The basic thing that everyone needs to remember is that criminals are not affected by gun control, only law abiding citizens are. The only way gun control could ever make even a dent in crime would be to get rid of all legally owned guns, and even then it would be a small dent. Criminals will always find a way. I hate to use this because it's been beat to death, but, remember 911....box cutters. In the worst attack ever on our country, not a single gun was used.

    I'm sorry, and I mean no disrespect to those who died or their families. 911 just happens to be the biggest example of how a criminal will overcome any law or lack of weapons if he or she really wants to commit a crime.

    The world will never be completely rid of crime, that's why we have laws and police officers, and my hats off to them. Theirs is a tough job. I wouldn't trade jobs with them for anything.

    Clinton H Davis
    Oregon Army National Guard
    Tallil, Iraq

    May 20, 2009 at 8:12 pm |
  12. Jack

    Obviously we need to put these prisoners on trial and either shoot them or let them go. It's not complicated. In any other war, these men would have been shot on the battlefield following a drum-head courts martial.


    May 20, 2009 at 8:12 pm |
  13. Andrew

    If we're going to close Gitmo – which for moral, security, and economic reasons is the right thing to do – then we have to put these guys in US prisons. There's no other way. Shipping them to Iraqi or Afghan prisons will probably cost even more and will be dangerous to our troops, given that the prisoners will be around their fellow combatants. No other country is going to house these dangerous people. Putting them in supermax prisons can work because these are the most secure prisons in the US, and the prisoners are kept in almost complete isolation and therefore are less likely to conspire together.

    May 20, 2009 at 8:07 pm |
  14. Joanna

    We're just a bunch of "gun totin' cowboys aren't we (sarcasm). It's also sick how this nonsense got into the credit card legislation. Special interest groups run our country. We are so far from a democracy it's not even funny. How is it that the American people don't have a say in where guns should be allowed?? You won't find me in a national park now – now with guns there – note your point on crime. Now there will be crime thanks to the Almighty NRA. We should print them on our bills now (more sarcasm). It seems our legislatures honor them as much if not more than God.

    May 20, 2009 at 8:05 pm |
  15. Chas

    All prisons are expensive to run. "Import every single quart of milk that goes there"??? Facetious. People live in Hawaii and have to import every single gallon of gasoline they use. Close it down? Ban all cars and engines there?
    Let's be serious. The prison is set up; the detainees are there. US citizens feel safer with the detainees off the mainland. The only reason actually to shut it down is we would look "better" in the world's eyes. That is not a good reason.

    May 20, 2009 at 7:53 pm |
  16. John Edwards

    OK so Coburn got his way. However, why can't he try honesty and come out and say he catering to the gun lobby. States rights – how do federal national parks come under states rights. What a dishonest, poor excuse for a human being. One can only hope that he sticks to his statement when first elected that he was a one term senator. I'm willing to bet that will also turn out to be a lie.

    May 20, 2009 at 7:52 pm |
  17. Sean Garland

    Just goes to show how many uneducated, hill billy's exist amongst us.

    May 20, 2009 at 7:52 pm |
  18. Terry

    Liberal spin!
    Wasn't it just recently that a young girl was killed in a national park in South Carolina? Upon investigation, didn't investigators discover that there were several cases similar to that one? Wasn't miss Levy get murdered in a park in New York? People who visit parks are sitting ducks for criminals. Get real!
    Why are you so against the general population carrying a gun for protection. You don't complain when Oprah hires armed guards to escort her around.

    May 20, 2009 at 7:51 pm |
  19. Steve

    There is a need for self-defense in National Parks, not from crime but from some of the wildlife. Twice I have had to climb trees in Glacier National Park while backpacking, once to avoid a grizzly bear and another time to avoid an overprotective moose.

    I'm not saying I would have opened fire in either situation, but it would have been nice to have the option. In both situations, if I would have not been able to climb I would have been in serious trouble.

    Bears, moose, and bison all present a very real danger to humans in National Parks. Wolves and rattlesnakes present a very real danger to pets.

    May 20, 2009 at 7:50 pm |
  20. Duane Buck

    As a current law enforcement officer with the National Park Service, my job just got more dangerous! The exsisting law was fine and had been working for many years.

    So as you listen to a campfire program, Bubba will be cleaning his gun in front of everyone. He'll be tempted to shoot that trophy buck grazing in the backcountry.

    The below staffed law enforcement park rangers will be running from gun call to gun call because visitors will be unfamiliar with the new laws.

    Thanks for making my job harder and more dangerous!

    May 20, 2009 at 7:49 pm |
  21. Michael

    Our prisons are more than capable of handling anyone sentenced to prison. Once in prison I would be more concerned about being able to protect the "terrorists" from injury or death from other inmates. I would imagine they will tend to frown on having terrorists among them. Accidents happen in jail all the time, right?
    As far as trying these individuals, just do it. Give them the same rights an individual in the armed forces would have in a court martial. The same civil protections. If they are acquitted, then so be it. Return them to their own countries. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have given their lives to provide those protections. And as horrendous as these people might be, we must be bigger as a nation than their alleged crimes.
    Guns in a National Park is just plain stupid!! What next? Allowing hunting in the National Parks? People getting in an argument around the campfire and shooting each other? Guns also do not belong in any school or university - and especially not in a hospital! Some of these NRA nuts are just plain stupid rednecks.

    May 20, 2009 at 7:48 pm |
  22. Kevin

    About the gun carrying issue: Those who break laws were already carrying in national parks, just like they are in schools and hospitals right now. All this did was allow those who are law abiding citizens to now carry in national parks. Many gun control measures do not reduce crime as they are aimed at those who are already law abiding...and a criminal doesn't care about a no carry law as a murderer doesn't care that it's against the law to kill in cold blood.

    May 20, 2009 at 7:42 pm |
  23. Michael C. McHugh

    I was one of the early advocates of that Supermax idea to house any Guamtanamo prisoners convicted of crimes. For all I care, they can all be given their own special section, and have it all to themselves except for the guards–kind of like the Nazis at Spandau Prison in Berlin.

    Of course, those sentenced to death could be sent to the federal death house in Terre Haute, Indiana, which is definitely no tropical paradise. If the government can't keep the federal death row secure, then it can't secure anything at all.

    Even though I am man of the left and a social democrat, I have no objection to capital punishment if the crime is severe enough, like mass murder, serial killing, war crimes and so on. It's a harsh world and we just can't be too soft on our enemies.

    Same thing with guns. I don't care if individuals own weapons for hunting or self-defense, although for home defense I would recommend a shotgun rather than handguns. Shotguns don't miss, after all. Of course, I don't think that just any criminal or mental case should be allowed to walk into a store and buy any weapons they want. It has always seemed reasonable to me that there should be permits and background checks for anyone who wants to buy firearms–and I am well aware that criminals can get wepoans without these. that would be true in any case, no matter what the law was. In any country in this world, you can get weapons and explosives illegally if you have the money, but there should still be a requirement that ordinary citizens get permits and background checks.

    May 20, 2009 at 7:39 pm |
  24. phyllis

    Just leave Gitmo where it is and move on to more important things. Like the Middle East.

    May 20, 2009 at 7:36 pm |
  25. Annie Kate

    So now we need to be able to defend ourselves from our fellow campers? This is past ridiculous. People don't need weapons most of the time – much less concealed weapons in a national park, or forest, or hospital or school. There has to be someplace where you can feel safe. That seems to be getting harder every day.

    May 20, 2009 at 7:31 pm |