This is what a real attack on American values looks like.
One day Sen. Jeff Flake is warning America about rising Stalinism and the next he’s supporting a bill that strips the rights of citizens who’ve been arbitrarily placed on secret government lists without any probable cause or due process. Make no mistake, that’s exactly what the legislation a group of senators plan to re-introduce this week does.
“Terrorists,” explains Flake, “shouldn’t have access to guns, and this legislation has the teeth to make sure they don’t.”
Hey, forget the guns! Why aren’t Flake and the Democrats introducing legislation to immediately detain all these “terrorists?” If the watch lists are enough to convict a man, then it’s safe to assume that there are over a million violent extremists walking our streets with impunity. Because surely — surely — Flake, sainted martyr of real conservatism, a man who took an oath to “support and defend the Constitution,” isn’t arguing that we should circumvent the First, Second, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments for those placed on extrajudicial lists by bureaucrats? Surely he’s not arguing that simply being suspected of potentially engaging in criminal activity is now enough to preemptively deprive people of their rights? That would be downright authoritarian.
Watch lists are inexact tools for law enforcement, after all, not a way to adjudicate rights. Most of the names on the watch lists, and the reason those names appear on those lists, are known only to government officials. If you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of innocent people unlucky enough to be capriciously tagged by law enforcement, you can only extricate yourself after an expensive and byzantine process that is often beyond the reach of an average a law-abiding citizen. Which is almost surely the point. As far as we can tell, nearly 300,000 names aren’t even vaguely associated with potential terrorist organizations. Yet, in this proposed legislation, sponsored by Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), senators demand that Americans ask for permission before practicing their constitutional rights.
Then there is the question of how we define a potential terrorist in the future? The listmakers won’t say. How about Democrats? As others have noted, liberals regularly accuse the National Rifle Association (and thus gun owners) of being complicit in terrorism. Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy has argued that Republican who fail to support bypassing due process “have decided to sell weapons to ISIS.” Kathleen Rice, who sits on the House Homeland Security Committee, contends that Dana Loesch and “the NRA are domestic security threat” for practicing their First Amendment rights. Excuse me if I don’t trust these people to dictate whose rights should be protected.
Then again, Democrats — the majority of whom have supported these kinds of bills in the past — should name their bill, “Take the guns first, go through due process second.” In essence they’re arguing the Trump administration should be allowed to put any citizen it deems suspicious into a government database without any explanation — maybe they joined an Antifa group online or maybe they flew to Turkey for a vacation or maybe they have a funny sounding name like John Lewis or Edward Kennedy. Then, for whatever reason the Trump administration decides — and without providing evidence to back up its suspicions to a judge — this American can be denied an individual right explicitly guaranteed by the Constitution and upheld by the Supreme Court.
Now, call me a radical, but I tend to think this is a more consequential attack on the Constitution than mocking CNN.
Above all else, this bill reeks of a patronizing “do something” quality that leans purely on political expediency. This bill would not have stopped a single mass shooting, the supposed impetus for these incremental moves in making ownership more difficult. Using terrorism in this debate is nothing more than a way gin up anger and moral outrage for political gain.
It’s working for now. According to Politico, 81 percent of Americans support barring gun purchases by people on the federal no-fly or watch lists. The real question pollsters should be asking Americans, though, is whether they support “stripping Americans who are indiscriminately placed on lists by the government of their constitutional rights?” One imagines the numbers would look very different, since it’s doubtful there’s widespread understanding of how these lists would be used.
And if the public still supported Flake’s efforts, well, then his warning about authoritarianism is coming true. Until then, though, I’m sorry you’re offended by this inconvenient, antiquated and crazy Second Amendment, but until Democrats and their allies get enough people to overturn it or enough Supreme Court Justices to ignore it, it’s the law of the land. Because while “No Fly, No Buy” might be catchy, it has a deal-breaking snag: You do not yet have a constitutional right to fly.