Guns versus terror

Statue of Liberty with gun

Statue of Liberty with gun

In the ongoing war between the political right and left to control the national dialogue, the latest battle involves conservatives talking about terror and liberals talking about guns. We saw this on display during last Wednesday’s Republican presidential debate, as the news headlines reported that “Terror takes center stage during Republican debate.” Likewise, terrorism but also gun safety law solutions took center stage at last Saturday night’s Democratic presidential debate, as the ABC News moderators asked questions seemingly ripped from the Republican book of talking points. Note how Republicans are not focusing on the typical economic issues thus far in the 2016 election cycle. That’s because the facts aren’t too good for the GOP when comparing the economy and job creation under President Barack Obama (or Bill Clinton for that matter) against George W. Bush‘s financial collapse. However, in the wake of the San Bernardino shootings and as we mark the third year of Congressional inaction after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, Democrats are feeling more emboldened to talk about gun violence. In particular, Democrats advocate steps such as universal background checks, closing the gun show loophole and reinstating the assault weapons ban.

Moreover, we are now seeing the intersection of terrorism and gun violence, as terrorists based in the U.S. and apparently inspired by ISIS (or al Qaeda before them) have attacked other Americans with guns instead of bombs or airplanes. This can’t be a surprise, since an al Qaeda spokesman appeared on video several years ago, exhorting followers in the U.S. to “go down to a gun show” to pick up “easily obtainable firearms” including an “assault rifle without a background check, and most likely, without having to show an identification card.” Moreover, after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the U.S. created a terrorist “No-Fly” list of people who are prohibited from boarding airplanes in America. Of course, the list is not perfect — some people who should be on the list are not on it, and vice versa — but there are procedures in place to appeal one’s status and seek removal from the list in case of errors. But what’s not defensible is that suspected terrorists on the no-fly list can still purchase guns legally in the U.S. Yet this absurd idea  — known as the “Terror Gap” — is the position of most Republicans. Democrats have hammered the Republicans over this foolish and dangerous national security breach. There’s no way around it, and Democrats should say it loudly — letting suspected terrorists buy guns is being soft on terrorism.

Most of the time, good policy is also good politics, and closing the “Terror Gap” is one of those cases.

Image by Alan Cleaver (from the play Popcorn by Ben Elton), used under Creative Commons license.

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