Who knew being a suspected terrorist might cost you a seat on that flight to San Jose — but not an assault weapon?
We’ve all heard stories about famous people — the late Sen. Ted Kennedy was one — being wrongly placed on a no-fly list. Those much-maligned bureaucrats who do their part in the war to keep us safe every day have set up procedures whereby folks who mistakenly have been listed can have their names removed.
Here’s the NRA complaint: Not everyone on the watch list has been convicted of a crime. It’s true; some have close ties to radical clerics, deep interest in jihad and extremism, but they’ve never been convicted of a crime. Want to sit next to him on your flight? Take a twirl around the dance floor?
Are we finally admitting the problem is, as always, not just guns and not just people but people with guns, and both sides of that equation have to be addressed?
Which brings us to today’s big issue in the party of Lincoln: Does the Second Amendment really give suspected terrorists the right to buy a firearm?
I swear, this is an issue that’s actually being debated. My students would accuse me of making it up. No. Check the news. There is a lot of back-and-forth going on.
It is a big issue, in Donald Trump’s Republican Party. You see, every time there’s a mass shooting and there is substantial evidence the shooter never should have been allowed to buy a weapon, the conversation turns to whether we were devoting adequate resources to maintaining an accurate list. But the Orlando shooter was dropped from one list in 2014, and even though he should have been watched — and even though one gun store found his order suspicious enough to not sell to him — he had no trouble going to another store and procuring a nice sporting assault rifle, for use on humans as targets.
So how can the Republican Party really say limiting terrorists’ right to buy guns is an attack on the Second Amendment, which is effectively what House Speaker Paul Ryan said recently? Oh, because once Big Brother gets a foot in the door and starts limiting access to guns, you never know what might happen next. Actually, we do know. Just look at Australia: After a mass shooting left 35 people dead in 1996, the government enacted strict gun laws. They haven’t had a mass shooting since.
If only more people at the nightclub had guns, one commentator after another has opined. Maybe that would have helped. Or maybe that would have meant more deaths in the crossfire.
Anyway, it’s impossible to debate these issues rationally in an election year. In an election year, what matters is what the National Rifle Association will swallow and how far it will let the candidate go.
Trump is as good a friend as the NRA could dream of having in the White House. They know that, and he knows that. In the wake of Orlando, the NRA has not backed down from its stance — that people on terrorist watch lists should be allowed to buy guns. But even Trump might oppose that.
Welcome to the general election.
Susan Estrich is a columnist, commentator and law and political science professor at USC.