Well before facts were known, there were cries for denying guns to “terrorists” as the cure to mass murder. It began when the shooters were characterized as “three white” people, which made some argue that the only reason for reluctance to call this terrorism was that the shooters didn’t have brown skin and funny names.
But then, it turned out they did, when it was revealed that the shooters were Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27, so the arguments immediately flipped around for those determined to push their political and racial agendas no matter what.
And in jumped Senator Diane Feinstein with a bill to deny the purchase of guns to anyone on the FBI’s terrorist watchlist. It wasn’t a new proposal, but one whipped out whenever hysteria presents an opportunity.
The measure has been introduced repeatedly since 2007. The Government Accountability Office has documented that over years of congressional blockage, hundreds of suspected terrorists on the watchlist bought guns.
No, neither Farook nor Malik were on the terrorist watchlist. Indeed, aside from the facile prejudice derived from their funny names, they had nothing to do with terrorism.
But by late Thursday, no evidence had emerged that Mr. Farook had communicated with anyone of “significant investigative concern,” one official said, and no evidence that he was tied to, or inspired by, any terrorist group.
And Farook, a United States citizen, had lawfully purchased guns.
The two handguns that were recovered were bought by Mr. Farook, and all four weapons were bought legally, Chief Burguan said. A senior federal law enforcement official said the assault rifles were bought by a third person who is not considered a suspect.
But that didn’t prevent anyone from using the opportunity to push an agenda that bore no relationship to anything.
In the hours after the attack in San Bernardino on Wednesday, President Obama specifically mentioned that legislation as an important security measure. “Those same people who we don’t allow to fly can go into a store in the United States and buy a firearm, and there’s nothing that we can do to stop them. That’s a law that needs to be changed,” he said on CBS News. The George W. Bush administration backed the terrorist-list bill in 2007.
The last sentence is tossed in by the New York Times to deflect any criticism that this is a partisan thing. It’s not. But it doesn’t make the current administration’s backing any more attractive either, despite the Times’ editorial blaming the other party for blocking the perpetual handmaiden law from protecting America from a mass murder where it wouldn’t have applied anyway.
The evolving situation has forced Republican leaders and presidential candidates to contort themselves: talking tough on terrorism, yet ignoring the fact that the two were armed to the teeth with two .223-caliber assault rifles and two 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistols, and hundreds of rounds, all purchased legally.
While the nation suffered through the shock of another bloody massacre, on Thursday every Senate Republican except Mark Kirk of Illinois voted against legislation to prevent people on the F.B.I.’s consolidated terrorist watchlist from purchasing guns or explosives.
Recognizing that their editorial bears no factual connection to anything, the Times skirts its agenda thus:
But when a mass shooting at home calls attention to laws that put guns into the hands of suspected terrorists, they ask for a moment of silence, while taking action that speaks volumes.
Not that this proposal would have changed anything, but that the mass shooting “calls attention” to an otherwise unrelated agenda seemed like the perfect opportunity to pick the flesh off the bones of the dead for its own purposes. Nice.
Nor did the law “put guns in the hands” of anyone. No one forces anyone in America to buy, own or use a gun. As a typical northeastern city slicker, I don’t personally care for guns, don’t own any and have no desire to possess any. Nobody has put a gun in my hands, though I could certainly buy one if I desired. I don’t.
But what I am not is a fair weather friend of constitutional rights. Unlike the Times, I don’t prefer the amorphous claims of rights about safety and feelings, but the ones protected by the Constitution. All of them, not just the ones that serve my purposes. Which brings me to the point of what’s terribly wrong with this hypocritical and deceptive notion.
The proposal is to deprive individuals of rights based upon being “suspected” terrorists. The word “suspected” means that they have been convicted of nothing, are guilty of nothing in the eyes of the law, and yet would be deprived of constitutional rights. And the Times is good with depriving Americans of rights based on suspicion.
Even more bizarre, they approve of constitutional deprivation based on “the F.B.I.’s consolidated terrorist watchlist,” such as the no-fly list, the secret magic lists that provide no clue how one gets on, or off, or why, or why not. Some unknown government agents puts a name on a list in a computer and, poof, they are no longer entitled to the full panoply of rights the Constitution provides everyone else. Because they are “suspected.”
The desperation of this effort to characterize rejection of this ridiculously illiberal notion of depriving people of constitutional rights based on vague suspicion would be an outrage under any other circumstances. Except when it comes to guns. While accusing those voting against this misbegotten concept of “contorting” themselves, the only contortion apparent is that the New York Times’ adoration of civil rights ends at the barrel of a gun.
— Jesse Wegman (@jessewegman) December 3, 2015
Because that’s the only argument to be mustered when the hatred of guns confronts the Constitution. I pretty much share Jesse’s feelings about guns. He doesn’t share my feelings about the Constitution. And that could explain the shamelessness with which opportunists seize upon a tragic mass murder to further an agenda that wouldn’t have prevented it anyway, but would have elevated suspicion to a satisfactory reason to deprive Americans of constitutional rights.
Update: Eugene Volokh weighs in on suspected terrorists.
I can’t see how that’s constitutional. And though the bill would have let the buyer go to court to challenge the attorney general’s decision, the attorney general would simply have had to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the two elements were satisfied — that the attorney general appropriately suspected the buyer and that she had a reasonable belief about what the buyer may do. Plus the evidence supporting the attorney general’s position might never be shared with the buyer, which may make it impossible for the buyer to fairly challenge it, or aired in open court.
This seems like over-thinking the problem. But as Eugene also points out, there isn’t much chance this would prevent a terrorist who wanted to get his hands on a gun from getting one, thus reducing it to a pointless gesture designed to undermine gun ownership without providing any real benefit anyway.