In the weeks following the Orlando massacre, both sides of the aisle have proposed legislation intended to assuage fears that the United States is too vulnerable to terror attacks.
Democrats, predictably, have capitalized on the opportunity to push for restrictions on gun ownership. What they’d really like, if it were politically feasible, is a reinstatement of the 1994 assault weapons ban. In the meantime, they’ve set their sights on prohibiting firearm purchases by individuals on the “no fly list” and other terror watch lists.
At first blush, this sounds reasonable. After all, suspected terrorists shouldn’t be able to buy guns, right?
In reality, it’s not that simple. Proponents of the “no fly list” ban conveniently overlook abundant evidence that suggests such lists are easily abused, often include individuals by mistake, and it is exceedingly difficult to get names removed in the event of an error. Furthermore, such a policy would strip citizens of a constitutional right without even being charged, let alone convicted, of a crime.
Unfortunately, Democrats are not alone in using this tragedy to further their political agenda.
Republicans, playing on fears of domestic terror attacks, want to expand warrant-less data collection. John McCain (R-AZ) and other senior Republicans in the Senate tried and failed by a narrow margin to grant the FBI access to browser history without warrants. They argued that without increased surveillance capabilities, security agencies would continue to fail to identify would-be terrorists in time to stop similar attacks in the future.
It is simply untrue, though, that the government lacks the tools necessary to recognize potential threats without more access to our personal information.
Omar Mateen, the shooter in the Orlando attack, was investigated twice by the FBI for possible connections to terror groups. The Tsarnaev brothers, perpetrators of the Boston Bombing, had similarly been on the FBI’s radar prior to orchestrating their attack. The FBI’s failure to stop these attacks would not have been remedied by expanding warrant-less searches.
The bloated bureaucracies tasked with keeping us safe are no more effective than any other government agency. The TSA, for example, has the comparatively simple goal of screening airline passengers for weapons and explosives. But by their own admission and according to their own tests, they have an appalling 95% failure rate. Why think that agencies tasked with sifting through data collected on hundreds of millions of Americans will be more successful?
The gun-grabbers and wire-tappers alike show little regard for the concept of innocence until proven guilty. They may disagree about which liberties we should discard, but their underlying messages are the same: that pesky concept of due process guaranteed by the Bill of Rights gets in the way of their valiant efforts to protect us from ourselves.
The urge to act in the wake of a tragedy is a natural one. After all, mass shootings are a horrific evil, and we should take steps to reduce the risk that they are repeated. There is a time and place for thoughtful discussions about whether policy measures could be enacted that both respect the rights of peaceful individuals and also lessen the threat of future attacks. But in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy when emotions are running high, we should mourn the deaths of the victims, not sacrifice a cornerstone principle of Constitutional law in exchange for the state’s false promises of protection.