by Joe Shea
June 16, 2016
A JOURNEY TOO FAR
BRADENTON, Fla., June 6, 2016 -- Today, President Obama arrives in Orlando as I write, again hoping to express the outrage of Americans about the availability of high-powered assault rifles like the AR-15 suspect Omar Mateen allegedly used to murder 49 people and wound 53 others at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, last Sunday morning.
Meanwhile, Democrats in the U.S. Senate are continuing their filibuster in support of a bill that would deny those on "no fly" and terrorist watch lists the right to buy weapons from gun shops. The law would not prevent sales to such people from private individuals, or at gun shows.
As the dead pile up in many corners of the United States from Newtown, Conn., to San Bernardino, Calif., the President's peripatetic travels have seen him cry, roar and cajole against the absence of laws that would help limit the role of guns in mass murders and other gun-related violence in America.
As a steadfast defender of our constitutional rights, I value the Second Amendment as much as all others granted in the Bill of Rights. I do not want to see it repealed or modified or touched by politicians in any way. Yet I hear urgency, integrity and authenticity in the President's pleas.
I, too, am opposed to the sale of the powerful weapons designed for military use that have been used so often and so awfully in mass murders and other killings across the country.
It is apparently pointless to argue that a close reading of the Second Amendment reveals it was intended to establish the right of people opposed to British hegemony in the Americas to take up arms against their oppressors.
The amendment is clearly aimed at protecting and empowering those brave patriots whose efforts culminated in the Revolutionary War and the creation of the United States of America, and to ensuring that their creation will be sustained in future generations.
The Second Amendment was not designed to allow supporters of ISIS the ability to kill dozens of people with impunity, to allow a mass murder to gun down 26 children and teachers at an elementary school, or any of the other terrifying events that have been made possible by virtue of the killers' greater firepower. But that is not news to anyone.
The issue before us today is whether anyone whom the FBI has been given reason to believe may use them to commit terrorist acts should be allowed to buy weapons. The problem is that there is no due process procedure that precedes being named to such a list, and the ability of the innocently accused to get off those lists is fraught with difficulty. It even took the late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy six months to do so, Glenn Beck reported today.
The collision of consitutional rights and public necessity presents many such dilemmas. In practice, until a court acts to stop such bans, the reality of terrorism and public approval or apathy, or both, decide the imminent practical question on the side of public necessity.
Go into the local sheriff's office and ask to be allowed to buy a gun despite being on a terrorist watch list and you will surely be rebuffed, if not fully refused - a determination a local sheriff is not empowered to make. What they can do is prohibit you from carrying a concealed weapon, i.e., a hand gun, or at least deny you a permit to do so.
Ask the same at a gun shop, a gun show or at the home or favorite restaurant of a private person with a gun to sell, and in all probability you will soon be a gun owner.
The tolerance that this paradigm reflects is the result of vast efforts by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the funds they supply in abundance to candidates for public office at every level, but especially to candidates for President, Congress and the U.S. Senate.
It is apparently money that cannot be safely refused if an election is pending; the candidates who reject the NRA's positions on gun control and the associated money that comes with their acceptance are rarely successful in any blue state, and sometimes not in red states, either. There are few issues that can yield such cut-and-dry results.
Given these parameters of the assault weapon debate, how should we proceed? It should be self-evident, even to Republicans who haven't made sense in years, that someone the FBI fears may become involved in terrorism should always be denied the right to buy an assault weapons, at least until he or she is removed from the list.
But Omar Mateen was removed from the list, after several FBI investigations of allegations about him, and he then proceeded to buy an assault weapon and a handgun and shoot down 102 people before being killed himself. Did the NRA and the Republicans intend to allow such outliers to buy a gun? The answer is really not clear.
It does appear, though, that the insanity generated by the loopholes in gun laws only exists with the support of the NRA and the congressional lobby.
Donald Trump, taking a stance that does not endear him to the NRA, which has endorsed him, is making a difference by demanding that rationality - common sense - be brought to bear on the watch lists issue. He wants those on the lists to be denied the right to buy a gun. Hillary Clinton would agree.
It seems almost bizarre that any prominent person would need to publicly prod the NRA in the right direction, but I'm glad he's done so.
It does appear, though, that with his impeccable sense of timing and appreciation for political vulnerability, Mr. Trump has chosen perhaps the one issue favoring enhanced gun control that the NRA will support.
Let's all hope so. It is such a small step, but such an important one, and a great place to begin on a journey that must succeed.