Watch Lists Won't Stop Gun Violence
I wrote an article yesterday about the Democrats in Congress holding their sit in after Republicans refused to hold a vote about keeping people on the no fly list from buying guns. After all of the comments on my personal Facebook page, it's become clear to me that my point was completely missed, so I'll clear it up now. Due process is hugely important, and it shouldn't be maneuvered around by secret lists. I love my guns, but I also have no delusions that everyone should own one. And, finally, any protest by members of Congress is an encouraging sign that they're not as dead inside as we may have thought. Ok?
But this whole issue is definitely being handled out of order. You can't use terrorist watch lists to keep people from getting guns, when those lists are so subjective that just about anyone can land on them. Pun intended. The members of Congress who are protesting know that. They know that what they proposed was a bit ludicrous, and that it had no chance of passing. What it would do is start negotiations with their Republican cohorts to push a narrative that may positively affect the rash of mass shootings that America has endured with alarming frequency over the past few years. The conversation was the point, not the bill. Either that, or they're all out of their fucking minds. I prefer to believe the former.
While these watch lists got their momentum from the shock wave of The Patriot Act, the government spying on it's citizens is nothing new. Does anyone really think that the FBI just started watching people in 2001? Of course not. McCarthyism is still one of the most notorious witch hunts we've ever had, and it's been 60 years since that first spoke of lunacy rolled by the faces of the majority of Americans. The new-fangled picture box was in enough living rooms for people to follow the trials of all of those dirty Reds, and I'm sure it was the most entertaining thing on television at the time. How many times could 1950's couples watch a handsome Cuban musician not recognize his own wife in a fake mustache?
The reason that so many people hated what Senator McCarthy did is that people lost their rights before they were convicted. This is a pretty standard symptom of overwhelming fear. If most of the country is shitting themselves because they're terrified of “the other,” their usually pretty happy with those people's rights being stripped. Only in the interest of safety, of course.
So, what do we do? Do we just take our eyes off of suspected terrorists because the FBI may be wrong about their targets sometimes? Most people wouldn't agree with that extreme either. There are absolutely dangerous people and dangerous ideas in this country, and it's supposed to be the job of the FBI to keep their collective finger on the pulse of that.
The problem is that we can't trust them to do this. We've elected so many politicians that somebody else already paid for, that we have no say at all in how any faction of government functions. People are furious about gun rights being signed away by not selling them to people on a vague list, and I get that. We often forget about the importance of due process in times of sweeping violence. If only we could remember in time to elect people who we can trust to not abuse the living shit out of the terrorist/no fly watch lists to further their political gains.
Yet still the problem remains just under the surface. It's the god damn list. The list itself is the issue. The FBI came up with RICO to take down the mafia, using crimes of a total organization to bring the bosses of those organizations to heel. While this leaves an argument against cruel and unusual punishment up in the air, at least there were convictions. If they could just make a conspiracy case and get a conviction, this list wouldn't be all that controversial, or even necessary. But they won't do that. That takes too much work. Why go through a trial when you can just stick people on a list and get similar results?
The truth is I don't have the big answer. Nobody seems to. The level of nuance involved to address the problem of gun violence in a country that's swimming in guns, is daunting. There is no easy answer. Criminalizing people without convicting them certainly isn't it. That behavior endangers all of our rights. Banning guns in America is about as realistic as me jumping into a time machine with Natalie Portman and having a three-way with Bettie Page. Federal background checks are a start. Personality assessments would be a good idea too, though I don't hear anyone else serving up an opinion on that. But the first step is to calm the fuck down, listen to other people's opinions, and try to look at this nightmare pragmatically, because we sure as hell can't do nothing with the expectation of change.