There are many popular demons in American public life: Barack Obama and his monarchical pretensions, Valerie Jarrett and her two-bit Svengali act, or, if your tastes run in the other direction, the Koch brothers, the NRA, the scheming behind-the-scenes influences of Big Whatever. But take a moment to doff your hat to the long, energetic, and wide-ranging careers of three of our most enduring bad guys: laziness, corruption, and stupidity, which deserve special recognition for their role in the recent debates over gun control, terrorism, and crime.
The Democratic party’s dramatic slide into naked authoritarianism — voting in the Senate to repeal the First Amendment, trying to lock up governors for vetoing legislation, and seeking to jail political opponents for holding unpopular views on global warming, etc. — has been both worrisome and dramatic. The Democrats even have a new position on the ancient civil-rights issue of due process, and that position is: “F— you.” The Bill of Rights guarantees Americans (like it or not) the right to keep and bear arms; it also reiterates the legal doctrine of some centuries standing that government may not deprive citizens of their rights without due process. In the case of gun rights, that generally means one of two things: the legal process by which one is convicted of a felony or the legal process by which one is declared mentally incompetent, usually as a prelude to involuntary commitment into a mental facility. The no-fly list and the terrorism watch list contain no such due process. Some bureaucrat somewhere in the executive branch puts a name onto a list, and that’s that. The ACLU has rightly called this “Kafkaesque.”
The Democrats have a new position on the ancient civil-rights issue of due process, and that position is: “F— you.”
Here’s where our old friends laziness and stupidity play a really prominent role: The no-fly list is not composed of identities, but merely names. Lots of people share the same name. So, for instance, the late Senator Ted Kennedy ended up on the no-fly list, because somebody had used his name (or a similar name) as an alias. Among people called “Kevin Williamson,” we find myself, the famous Scream screenwriter, a notable Scottish politician and political activist (he is also the author of Drugs and the Party Line), a Canadian entertainment journalist, a fine woodworker who sells his wares on Twitter, and a famous underwear model for whom I am unlikely to be mistaken. If a trip to the DMV or the IRS one day eventually sends me over the edge into full-on barking mad durka-durka-Mohammed-jihad territory, those other Kevin Williamsons are going to suffer simply because we share a name.
And, of course, every third actual dirtbag terrorist has the same name as a million other ordinary schmoes, because Arabic names tend to be a little repetitive. (Is there a Mohammed al-Mohammed in the house? Seriously, go to LinkedIn and see how many graphic designers and accountants walking this good green Earth share that name.)
Why do we put all the T. Kennedys on the list instead of the actual sack of it we’re interested in? Because running that information down and systematizing it is hard work. Reviewing that information is a lot of work, too, which is why our friend Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard and Fox News ended up on the terrorist watch list. (Amusingly, he found himself being subjected to heightened scrutiny by a dedicated cable-news viewer who instantly recognized him.) That’s all the stuff of good stories for a Stephen Hayes or a Ted Kennedy, but if you’re a bodega operator in the Bronx without connections and resources, you’re pretty well hosed.
But sorting out the criminals and malefactors from the law-abiding and peaceable is very difficult and demanding work, which is why we pay the ladies and gentlemen in our law-enforcement and intelligence agencies so much to do it. (Two hundred grand a year goes a long way in Philadelphia.) Conservatives are naturally inclined to indulge the police, but the fact is that the run of them are specimens of what you get when you take the same lazy unionized public-teat-suckling lumps over at the DMV and put guns on their hips and tell them that they are “at war” with the people they serve. Our intelligence guys aren’t in the main Blackford Oakes or James Bond: They’re drones compiling Excel reports until their pensions kick in. That cow-eyed young TSA gate agent with the “GANGSTER” neck tattoo grabbing your nozzle at the airport isn’t the best and brightest, and the guy he works for only has to be one step up. The distance between the guy staring dumbly into your traveler-sized tube of shaving cream and the guy making policy about staring dumbly into traveler-sized tubes of shaving cream is about 300 points on the SAT.
The murdering woman in San Bernardino was traveling the world on a Pakistani passport and had spent a great deal of time in Saudi Arabia before all but announcing her intentions on Facebook with her public declaration of allegiance to the Islamic State. That loon didn’t make it onto anybody’s no-fly list, but we’re giving the hairy eyeball to guys from Wauwatosa, Wisc., writing biographies of Dick Cheney. Well-done, Secret Agent Jackass, here’s a new decoder ring.
On the matter of ordinary workaday murders of the South Chicago and North Philadelphia type, it cannot be repeated enough that the majority of the killers — 90 percent in New York City according to a New York Times review of the data — have prior criminal histories, often for violent crime, frequently involving weapons offenses. Chicago, among other cities, does basically nothing to prosecute crimes involving the illegal possession of guns. For all the clucking about straw-purchasers — phony buyers who help criminals avoid background checks when acquiring guns — the U.S. attorney’s office for blood-soaked Chicago won’t even bother with those cases as a matter of policy. Why? Too much work, not enough juice. Nobody’s career gets made by putting some South Side gangster’s mom in the pokey for making a straw purchase of a Glock for her beloved son.
Likewise, we do very little in the way of surveillance and oversight of those on parole and probation. Why? It’s a hell of a lot of work chasing energetic young criminals all over Cleveland or Los Angeles. But gun stores have fixed addresses, business licenses, and convenient regular hours of operation, so the natural tendency of government bureaucracies is to focus on those. It’s about 70 percent laziness, 20 percent stupidity, and 10 percent corruption. Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s hard work suppressing evidence and delaying murder charges against a police officer in that infamous Chicago shooting roughly reverses those proportions.The Democrats and their intellectually corrupt apologists at the New York Times and elsewhere are willing to strip Americans of their constitutional rights, to micturate from a great height upon the entire concept of due process, and to treat all of us like criminals — while doing precisely nothing to prevent school shootings, terrorism, or ordinary crime — because they don’t have the guts to tell their political clients in the schools, the mental-health bureaucracies, and the criminal-justice system that eventually they are going to have to do their goddamned jobs in exchange for the hundreds of billions of dollars we lavish upon them.
It is time for Americans to grow up and to sober up. It may push your soy-latte buttons every time Bubba down in Muleshoe, Texas, buys a scary-looking black gun and declares war upon a row of defenseless Budweiser cans, but inconveniencing Bubba isn’t going to get the job done. Laziness, stupidity, corruption: The U.S. government exists for the sole purpose of protecting the rights of U.S. citizens, but somehow the fine minds at the New York Times conclude that the federal government should do more to burden the citizens to whom it owes every duty than, say, so-called refugees from Syria to whom the U.S. government has no duty whatsoever. Why? Because the alternative is expecting the employees of our federal, state, and local governments to do their duties, and that is just too much work.
— Kevin D. Williamson is National Review’s roving correspondent.