When I first read headlines proclaiming “Republicans Kill Bill Designed to Prevent Terrorists from Acquiring Guns” following the San Bernardino shootings, I shook my head. Sometimes the GOP lives up to the “Stupid Party” label.
Then I read on. I read the substance of the bill that was killed. And then, I was proud of my party for taking an apparently unpopular stand. Why?
First, imagine a world where Donald Trump is president. He advocates for — and Democrats in Congress pass — a law that restricts the free practice of Islam for anyone he believes is a terrorist. Or think of a world where Hillary Clinton is president. She calls for — and Republicans in Congress enact — a law permitting the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment on anyone her administration deems an enemy.
How do those scenarios sound? Frightening? They should be. The idea of consolidating that much power in a single branch of government is anathema to the entire American system. Fortunately, the Bill of Rights would lead to the rejection of those laws as unconstitutional…I hope.
But when it comes to the right protected by the Second Amendment, those scenarios are exactly what the president and others are advocating. So if we are going to combat terrorism regardless of the constitutional consequences, I have a better idea: let’s allow warrantless searches and seizures of all Americans placed on the terror watchlist.
If we forget the Fourth Amendment, then not only will we be able to stop those who might misuse firearms, but we will also find those plotting with pipe bombs, pressure cookers, and truck bombs. We might have prevented Farook, Tsarnaev, or McVeigh. How much quicker could law enforcement act without the need to involve judges?
Although the “Do Not Fly” list has been known to have some bycatch, it shouldn’t be a problem — after all, we’re fighting terrorism. The late-Sen. Ted Kennedy was a member of the watchlist, as were individuals who exercised their rights under the First Amendment by protesting the death penalty. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind being held in police custody while their houses are searched for items deemed contraband, all without a warrant.
This is all, of course, satire. Warrantless searches and seizures are a terrible idea. But, if you believe the Second Amendment protects an individual right as the Supreme Court has ruled, then so is the “Do Not Fly” list proposal. What, then, explains the outcry for its enactment?
The only reasonable explanation is that many simply do not want firearm ownership to be a right. Unfortunately for them, that is not what either the U.S. Constitution or nearly all state constitutions provide. Despite strong disagreement with their position, I respect those who unabashedly state they believe our constitutions are wrong on guns. We should not fault someone who openly and respectfully voices an unpopular opinion; that is why we have a First Amendment.
Yet, until those advocates convince Congress and 38 states to repeal, the Second Amendment remains the law of the land. And as long as that right exists, “bootstrapping” unconstitutional restrictions onto it presents a much greater danger, as those restrictions could easily creep to burden our other rights.
The common retort is: “So what? We should just do nothing?” Of course not. There are some reasonable steps we can take, regardless of the shootings. We could come up with a clear, bright line between casual sellers and dealers. We should drop the hammer on those federal licence holders who are obvious bad apples.
But we should also heed law enforcement leaders who, after many years, are reconsidering their position on civilian firearm ownership. Sheriffs and police chiefs in some of America’s most violent cities — Milwaukee, Detroit, Washington — are now encouraging citizens to arm themselves and stand ready to act, whether faced with criminals or terrorists. Part of that requires personal initiative from gun owners to familiarize themselves with their firearms and develop the skills necessary to use their weapons safely and responsibly.
And if we do all of these things, there will still be shootings. And if we bar those on the “Do Not Fly” list from purchasing weapons, there will still be shootings. When those shootings occur, it will only be responsible armed people — whether they wear blue, green, or L.L. Bean — that bring them to an end. Yet, to prevent shootings before they begin, we need to find whatever leads individuals to make a choice to kill another human, be it an ideology of hate, drugs, or mental illness, and destroy it at its root.
So I am proud of congressional Republicans for taking a stand. No president — Trump, Obama, Clinton, or any other — should have the power to suspend the constitutional rights of citizens by fiat, even if the idea is popular. Life imitating art again, liberty can die amid thunderous applause.