If there is anything more irrational in this world than violent religious extremism, it’s the American gun lobby
Here are a few of the things conservatives have done in response to the terrorist attacks on Paris: multiple Republican governors – and one Democrat – have announced they will do everything in their power to keep Syrian refugees out of their states; Donald Trump has called for shutting down mosques ; his fellow candidates Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush have proposed screening refugees and allowing just Christians in while keeping Muslims out.
These are acts born of fear, and it is rational to be afraid of terrorists. There is no doubt Isis would love to attack the United States, and it is perfectly reasonable to want to take steps to beef up our security while still promoting American values by offering a safe haven to refugees.
A Paris-style attack in the United States would be a horror, and we should take reasonable, commonsense steps to prevent such a scenario – like making sure terrorists can’t get guns. But if there is anything more irrational in this world than violent religious extremism, it’s the American gun lobby.
It is extremely easy for terrorists to obtain a gun in the United States. There is a federal requirement for background checks, but the loopholes are so big you could drive a Mack truck filled with AR-15s through them. Gun shows, private sales and the internet all make it simple for anyone who wants a mess of assault rifles to obtain them easily.
It’s so easy that in 2011, al-Qaida released a video urging radicalized Muslims in the US to buy guns to carry out terror attacks. “America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms,” said the American-born terrorist who narrated the video.
He was right. Not only is it simple to obtain a gun in America without a background check, but terrorist ties don’t prevent you from buying a gun even if they show up on a background check .
You can’t pass a background check if you’re a felon. You can’t pass one if you’ve been involuntarily institutionalized (assuming it shows up on the check). But if the federal government suspects you’re tied to Isis, al-Qaida or any other recognized terror organization, you can walk into a gun shop and buy any gun you want, background check and all.
As late as this year, bipartisan coalitions in Congress have attempted to pass a law that would forbid anyone on a terrorist watchlist from purchasing a gun. But the National Rifle Association opposes the law , because it reflexively opposes any legislation restricting gun ownership, no matter how much support it has, even among its own members.
That includes closing the background-check loopholes, so we know if people trying to buy guns shouldn’t have them. It includes a national firearm registry, so we know who has the guns. It includes allowing the Centers for Disease Control to study gun violence, so we can determine the best ways to prevent it. And yes, it even includes keeping people with suspected terrorist ties from buying guns in the first place.
In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott was one of the Republicans who announced he would do what he could to keep Syrian refugees out of his state. A state representative, Republican Tony Dale, expressed one of his top concerns about allowing refugees in: it would be too easy for them to buy guns in Texas.
So many politicians fear an Isis attack that it could keep refugees who desperately need our help from reaching safe haven in the United States. Maybe those politicians should redirect that energy toward something that could go to prevent real violence, and work to put some sensible restrictions on gun ownership.
At the very least, they could deny guns to terrorists.
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