National Security & Defense

The Great Gun-Control Distraction

Lashing out at a familiar bogeyman, the NRA, is far easier than looking our real enemy in the face.

Something has changed, and it’s not the availability of guns in the United States.

Consider the following facts: According to data from the New America Foundation’s International Security Program, from September 12, 2001, until the rise of ISIS in the late spring of 2014, jihadists killed 21 Americans in terror attacks here at home. Only three Americans died during the post-9/11 phase of the Bush administration.

Since ISIS burst on the international scene, the death toll has more than tripled. Jihadists have killed 73 American men and women in just two years. And that number would be much higher if not for the courage and bravery of local police. The list is sobering:

‐From April to June, 2014, Ali Muhammed Brown killed four Americans on a “mission of vengeance” against the United States.

‐On September 25, 2014, Alton Nolen beheaded an Oklahoma woman with a knife. His social media pages were covered with evidence of jihadist leanings and motivations.

‐On May 3, 2015, Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi attacked an exhibit of Mohammed images in Garland, Texas. They wounded a security officer, but police killed them before they were able to carry out mass murder.

‐On July 16, 2015, Mohammad Abdulazeez killed five people at two Chattanooga recruiting stations. FBI director James Comey declared that Abdulazeez was “inspired/motivated” by terrorist propaganda.

‐On November 4, 2015, Faisal Mohammed went on an ISIS-inspired stabbing spree — wounding four — before he was killed by campus police.

‐On December 2, 2015, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik pledged allegiance to ISIS then killed 14 people and wounded 21 at a Christmas party in San Bernardino, Calif.

‐On January 8, 2015, Edward Archer pledged himself to ISIS and attempted to assassinate a Philadelphia police officer. The wounded officer chased down and apprehended Archer before he could commit any other acts of violence.

‐On June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen pledged himself to ISIS and killed 49 people and wounds 53 at a gay nightclub in Orlando.

This death toll at home is augmented by an extraordinary toll overseas — with Paris facing repeated violent attacks, Brussels bombed, a Russian airliner brought down, and ISIS-inspired violence reaching all the way to Australia.

Yet if you watched Twitter yesterday, you would have seen entire quarters of the Left react with political fury, actually blaming the NRA for Sunday morning’s massacre and demanding greater gun regulation. In fact, in some quarters, there was far greater rage at gun owners and politicians who protect the Second Amendment than there was at the actual terrorist who slaughtered Americans or the terrorist army that inspired him. It was, quite frankly, stunning.

And it misses the point. ISIS is a game-changer, and the idea that gun control will make America safe from jihadists is sheer fantasy. Al-Qaeda’s calling card was the spectacular strike — blowing up embassies, almost sinking an American warship, bringing down the World Trade Center — but once America finally woke up to the danger, we were able to protect ourselves from the elaborate attack.

The Paris attacks were conducted in a nation with far tighter gun controls than any state in the United States, and it resulted in more than twice the casualties of Orlando.

ISIS, however, has learned the West’s true vulnerability. A free society simply can’t police everyone at once, and a relentless propaganda campaign aimed at radicals worldwide will yield jihadists who are ready to kill with any and all weapons available. The Paris attacks were conducted in a nation with far tighter gun controls than any state in the United States, and it resulted in more than twice the casualties of Orlando. Europe has suffered more than the U.S. in spite of its restrictive legal regime. The virus is spreading.

The gun-control debate is nothing more than a destructive distraction. Is there a single viable gun-control proposal of the last decade that would keep a committed jihadist from arming himself? Indeed, the gun-control debate keeps us from focusing on the true danger: a terrorist movement that’s learning how to attack a free society. It keeps us from focusing on the terrorists’ capabilities and motivations. It keeps us from asking the very hard questions about how to defeat a movement that’s based not just in a jihadist army that takes and holds territory but also in an ancient religious idea that has never gone away.

Against that backdrop, I can understand the very human temptation to fix one’s attention not on the colossal challenge of jihad but on the seemingly more manageable and more familiar challenge of attacking Republicans. Focusing on jihad means looking Islam in the face. Focusing on jihad means rethinking long-held assumptions about policy, politics, and liberal coalitions. Focusing on jihad means recognizing that many Muslim members of the leftist coalition actually, truly hate the LGBT side of the liberal alliance.

And so progressives are left with gun control as a unifying argument. They can’t resolve the irresolvable tension between championing Islam while also championing LGBT rights, so they punt. They lash out at the familiar bogeymen on the right. But terrorists don’t care. NRA or no NRA, they’ll keep trying to kill Americans, and they’ll keep succeeding until we finally wake up and realize that guns aren’t the enemy — jihadists are.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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