With overwhelming public support for reasonable gun control measures like background checks (about 90% of all Americans, demonstrated in five polls in 2015) the GOP is playing with political fire, and with lives, by continuing to resist legislation that is both constitutional, and makes our schools, movie theaters, college campuses, bars, work places, and public spaces safer.
Today we expect a vote on Senator Dianne Feinsteins’s proposed legislation to ban anyone on the terrorist watch from purchasing a gun, if they are on the terrorist watch list currently, or have been in a five year period prior to the date of attempted purchase. Republicans, on the other hand, want restrictions limited to the much smaller no-fly list. And they want the reverse of the Democrat’s procedural safety net. They don’t want a ban, they want a 72 hour waiting period, after which the buyer can purchase the gun, unless the FBI obtains a court order stopping the sale.
Conservative hero Antonin Scalia was the author of District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court case that ruled that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms is an individual right, and not a group/militia right. In that ruling, he also made clear that the right is not unlimited. In fact, the Heller decision was narrow – holding only for the proposition that government cannot create an absolute ban on handguns kept in the home for self-defense purposes. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled a week ago that sensible limitations on obtaining a concealed-carry permit are constitutional. Simply put, there is room within our constitutional protections – both the Second Amendment and the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments’ due process protections – for universal background checks, mandatory waiting periods, and prohibitions against suspected terrorists legally obtaining weapons.
Claims that the Democrats’ proposal will prevent 700,000 Americans from purchasing guns (made at the end of 2015 by Marco Rubio) are incorrect. In fact, there are about 700,000 people on the terrorist watch list, and based on the most recently available data, only about 14,000 of them are American permanent residents or citizens. The smaller no-fly list contains about 16,000 names, only about 500 of which are Americans. In short, there are zero constitutional implications for the vast majority of people who will be affected by the Democrat’s ban, and the Democrats’ proposal gives people wrongly included on the lists due process to correct the error and buy guns freely and legally.
At the heart of this disagreement is the power of the Federal government and how much due process protection should be enshrined in law for law-abiding citizens wrongly placed on the terrorist watch list. Democrats say ban first, ask questions later. Republicans say the sale should go forward unless the government acts to stop it. But shouldn’t common sense prevail? If you’re on the watch list incorrectly, you are motivated to actively seek to remove yourself from it. If you are on the watch list for good reason, the likelihood that you’ll pursue your claim to buy a gun legally is almost non-existent.
Here’s hoping our elected representatives can use some common sense, follow the will of the people, and make meaningful change out of unthinkable tragedy.