This evening, I stopped watching reruns of Bar Rescue for a full fifteen minutes in order to hear the President’s address on last week’s terrorist attack in San Bernardino.
I’m glad it was only fifteen minutes.
I don’t say this because I don’t think its important for a Commander in Chief to reassure Americans in the wake of a tragedy with its roots in international terror, but because President Obama is hardly the type of Commander in Chief to take such an opportunity to provide much in the way of reassurance. The speech contained no new ideas, a range of platitudes his administration has already offered over the last several days, an admonition to refrain from discrimination, and a pledge to continue a “war on ISIS” that seems to have little effect on ISIS abroad, and on self-radicalized individuals at home, who, like, it seems, last week’s lone wolf terrorists, have made a hobby out of finding common ground with barbarians who butcher children for sport.
The President closed his speech by noting that America is exceptional and that we should not “betray our values” out of fear. But most unsettlingly, the President himself seemed ready to sacrifice at least some civil liberties in the name of greater control — in pursuit of a “safer America.” Among the President’s proposals, an idea floated by Senate Dems this week: barring people whose names appear on the “no-fly list” from purchasing guns. From the President’s radio address, repeated, in part tonight:
We know that the killers in San Bernardino used military-style assault weapons — weapons of war — to kill as many people as they could. It’s another tragic reminder that here in America it’s way too easy for dangerous people to get their hands on a gun.
For example, right now, people on the no-fly list can walk into a store and buy a gun. That is insane. If you’re too dangerous to board a plane, you’re too dangerous, by definition, to buy a gun. And so I’m calling on Congress to close this loophole, now.
This, Mr. President, betrays our values.
The no-fly list (and its companion, the “terror watch list” — the two are not the same, though politician after politician has conflated the two repeatedly this week), is a relic of airline security from the pre-9/11 days, a list of people who have some, likely tenuous, connection to international terrorism. There is no due process afforded to those whose name is placed on the list; no reason is given to list additions, nor will any be forthcoming from authorities if you question your placement. People on the list are not charged with crimes. And getting on the list is surprisingly easy. Oh, and there’s no set of qualifications that get you on the list — it’s an arbitrary system. It’s so arbitrary that the TSA and DHS have, occasionally, hired people on both the no-fly and the terror watch list.
You can’t simply deprive these people of what is, explicitly according to the Supreme Court, an individual right guaranteed by the Constitution. Depriving these individuals of the right to purchase a weapon makes them the victim of not one but two violations of civil liberties: being targeted by the government for investigation without reason or consent, and depriving them of the right to keep and bear arms as defined by the Second Amendment. Politically popular or not (and it’s not politically popular), the suggestion is, well, terrible.
I get it, of course. This is a “solution” that can assuage the immediate political need, and it’s a wedge that allows the President to talk about gun control in a way that’s relevant to the situation at hand, especially given that California’s stringent laws failed to work, and the terrorists were able to acquire guns legally. Little will probably come of this, but it’s worth noting what President Obama’s priorities really are in the face of a terrorist attack.