Fans of mindless authoritarianism are having a pretty good month. The New York Times reports:
Congressional Democrats are trying to build support for an effort to bar gun purchases by terror suspects, hoping to take advantage of the same public anxieties about security that gave Republicans a ringing House victory.
The Democratic push seems likely to fall victim to opposition from the National Rifle Association and congressional gun-rights backers, chiefly Republicans, who have smothered firearms curbs for years. If the Republicans who control Congress block votes on the proposal, Democrats hope to profit politically by winning sympathy from angry voters.
As the Times implies, the bill’s proponents are quite open about their intentions. “Under current law,” Chuck Schumer explained over the weekend, “suspected or known terrorists who are on a no-fly list can legally purchase firearms in this country.” “Slamming this appalling loophole,” he argued, “ought to be a no brainer.” His colleague Harry Reid has made similar comments. “It’s outrageous,” Reid argues, “that dangerous individuals who are known terrorists can waltz into a gun show and buy any weapon they want.” In a Twitter conversation with me over the weekend, Reid’s deputy chief of staff, Adam Jentleson, put it even more clearly:
If FBI suspects you of being a terrorist & intending to commit terrorist acts, you shouldn't be able to buy a gun. https://t.co/dE8gDXstYa
— Adam Jentleson (@AJentleson) November 22, 2015
Let us avoid gloss or euphemism and speak plainly: This idea flies directly in the face of every cherished American conception of justice, and it should be rejected with extreme prejudice. You will note, I hope, that Reid, Schumer, Jentleson, and co. are not proposing to place restrictions on those who have been “accused,” “charged,” or “convicted,” but upon those who are “suspected.” They are not referring to those who are working their way through the judicial system, but to those who remain outside of it. They are not seeking to limit the rights of those who are out on bail or awaiting trial, but those who have not so much as been handcuffed. Loudly and proudly, they are arguing in favor of removing fundamental rights from anyone whose name has been written down on a list. Because they hope to confuse the public, their talk is peppered with references to “Paris-style” “assault” rifles and “automatic” weapons. But this is a red herring: Their proposal applies equally to guns of all types, not just those that give Shannon Watts and Diane Feinstein the willies.
In times past, officials advocating the simultaneous undermining of a range of constitutional rights would have been tarred, feathered, and dumped into the sea, along with their staff, their press agents, and anyone else who saw fit to acquiesce in the scheme. A little of that spirit might be welcome here.
#share#However the press might cast it, there are not in fact “two sides” to this issue. It is not a “tricky question.” It is not a “thorny one” or a “gray area” or a “difficult choice.” It is tyranny. Somewhere, deep down, its advocates must know this. Presumably, Chuck Schumer would not submit that those on a terror watch list should be deprived of their right to speak? Presumably, Harry Reid would not contend that they must be kept away from their mosques? Presumably, Diane Feinstein would not argue that they should be subjected to warrantless searches and seizures? Such proposals would properly be considered disgraceful — perhaps, even, as an overture to American fascism. Alas, there is something about guns that causes otherwise reasonable people to lose their minds.
And lose their minds the bill’s champions have. As of today, there are almost one million names on the terror watch list — that’s names, not identities — of which around 280,000 are linked to nothing much at all. This should not surprise, for one does not in fact have to do a great deal in order to find one’s way onto the list. Perhaps you know someone who is already on it? That’s suspicious, right? On you go! Perhaps you have annoyed someone powerful? Oops! On you go! Perhaps you once said something intemperate in public? Better to be safe. On you go! Perhaps you are a Muslim? On. You. Go.
And now what? To whom do you apply for removal? Nobody, that’s whom. By design, the system features scant due-process protections and an appeals process straight out of Kafka. It is, in the words of the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, an “arbitrary and capricious” monstrosity that violates not only the Constitution of the United States but the Administrative Procedure Act, too. No man shall be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” says the Fifth Amendment. “Whatever,” say the apologists.
#related#Should the Democrats’ bill pass into law, the opportunities for its abuse would be so extensive as to make one wonder if the whole thing had been a ruse from the outset. A few pixels back, I suggested that politicians who are willing to throw out the usual due-process protections should be tarred and feathered. Does that make me a potential terrorist? Linda Stasi, writing in the same New York Daily News that is at present cheering the proposal, believes that the NRA is itself a terrorist organization. Should its members be prevented from buying guns in consequence? Famously, Harry Reid call those who disagree with his legislative agenda “hostage takers.” Should Ted Cruz and Louie Gohmert be added to the FBI’s rolls?
Traditionally, we have used an old-fashioned tool to sort out who deserves to be punished and who does not: It’s called “the justice system.” If, as the watch list’s proponents insist, there are people among us who are too dangerous to remain at liberty, then those people must be arrested, charged, and tried tout de suite. Until that happens, they must be left the hell alone, lest the pitchforks and smoothbores that subdued the last set of usurpers start to twitch and grow restless in their retirement.
— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.