You Cannot Deny People Their Rights Because You Think They Might Be Terrorists

Around 3000 people gathered in Loring Park in Minneapolis to unite in the wake of the Orlando, Florida shooting in a gay nightclub that killed at least 50 people. Photo via Flickr

“Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) launched a talking filibuster on the Senate floor — which was quickly joined by fellow Democrats — in an effort to pressure Republicans to accept legislation that would deny suspected terrorists from purchasing firearms and require universal background checks,” reports Politico.

The legislation Murphy wants passed is the Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act which was rejected last December, but in the wake of the attack in Orlando the idea has gained some traction. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is on board with it, and wants to convince the NRA.

The Fargo Forum editorial board makes the obvious argument for the legislation. “The Orlando shooter was on an FBI watch list. He was known to have questionable associations with terrorist sympathizers, and had made statements that caused the FBI to flag him. He was on Homeland Security’s no-fly list, an indication national security officials saw him as a threat to airline safety,” the write. “But he could buy a gun.”

That’s right. He could. He did.

Federal officials say the terrorist responsible for the attack, Omar Mateen bought the weapons he used – a Sig Sauer MCX rifle and a Glock 17 pistol – at a local gun shop on two consecutive days.

The reason why he was able to make those gun purchases is because he had no criminal record. And the 5th amendment guarantees that we cannot “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

Like it or not – and I realize that many people do not like it – our gun rights are, in fact, rights guaranteed by the 2nd amendment. If you want to deprive someone of those rights then they must be convicted of a crime or found to be mentally incompetent through some legal process.

In other words, we must afford people due process before taking away their rights. What the Democrats and other supporters of the aforementioned legislation want to do is create the means through which people can be denied their rights without due process.

From Reason:

The bill, introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), would authorize the attorney general to block a gun purchase by someone “appropriately suspected” of involvement in terrorism based on “a reasonable belief” that he “may” use the gun “in connection with terrorism.”

Do we really want the hand the government the ability to deny us our civil rights because they suspect we might commit a crime? Philip K. Dick called that precrime, and it’s a scary concept.

It’s almost like the ridiculous prior restraint standard for free speech issues which held that the government could prevent someone from talking because they might say some illegal slander. I think most of us can agree that the government shouldn’t be able to stop you from speaking because of what they think you might say. So why on earth would we allow the government to stop us from buying a gun because they’re afraid we might do something illegal with it?

And using the terror watch lists as the mechanism through which gun rights are denied is ridiculous. The ACLU has described these watch lists as “virtually standardless,” and something like 40 percent of the people on the lists have “no recognized terrorist group affiliation.”

Besides, it’s not at all clear that Feinstein’s bill would have stopped Mateen. Again, from Reason:

In 2013, the Los Angeles Timesreports, Mateen, the son of Afghan immigrants, “was questioned by FBI agents after they were told he had made inflammatory comments that co-workers worried were sympathetic to terrorists.” Nothing came of it: “The FBI agents determined that Mateen had not broken any laws and closed the investigation.”

The following year, the Times says, the FBI interviewed Mateen again “because agents had learned he had contact with an American who later died in a suicide bombing in Syria.” They “closed that investigation because they concluded the contacts with the suicide bomber had been minimal.”

At that point, according to the Times, Mateen’s name was removed from the FBI’s so-called Terrorist Watchlist. It is hard to see how a man who was cleared twice by the FBI and was no longer on a watch list could have been “appropriately suspected” of involvement in terrorism, or even how the FBI would have noticed that he was buying a gun.

Nobody wants gun violence. But we also don’t want to hand the government the ability to deny us civil rights based on the flimsiest of standards.

Trump and the Democrats and everyone else supporting this legislation are flat-out wrong.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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