(First of all, I’m sorry if this post comes off as long and rambling. When I first sat down to write this, I didn’t really think about how complicated this issue is. But after considering more sides of the issue, I must admit there is a lot to take into account. But for me, this was an article that needed to be written. I understand that this is a very controversial issue; all I am trying to do is convey my positions on the matter. I hope to be respectful of all perspectives and hope none take offense to what I have written here.)
I did not think I would be writing this blog post about gun control. Before the Orlando shooting, I leaned heavily in favor of gun owners’ rights. If gun owners are law-abiding and know how to handle their weapons responsibly, they should have no interference with the government over their firearms. However, since Orlando, I have been doing a lot of soul searching on this matter, and have come to the conclusion that more must be done to keep people safe. People do have a right to be free of these mass shootings.
So what I am in favor of? Well, before last night, I would have gone straight into my spiel about providing due process for revoking permits and licenses, and confiscating firearms from those that need to be monitored on a watch list, for those that have said or done things that are potential warning signs for violence or radicalization. However, after reading this article, posted by a Facebook friend of mine, Patrick Goodman, http://tribunist.com/news/obama-asked-celebrities-to-help-push-gun-control-this-is-what-mike-rowe-did-instead/, it has made me re-think a little bit about the issue itself. If the assertions in this article are accurate (and I have no reason to think they aren’t), then the Obama administration needs to make the first effort in strong gun control by stepping up the enforcement of existing laws by his own Department of Justice. As the article above states, there appears to have been problems with the government adding ‘those found mentally incompetent’ to the National Check system. To me, this seems like something the administration can oversee and implement right away on its own; to allow the Department of Justice to get its own house in order. If the states are not registering all felons to the National Check system as they are supposed to as the article implies, again that is a failure in the system the DOJ needs to look into fixing with the states. Likewise, if the DOJ is not prosecuting those that lie on their applications to purchase firearms, this is again the executive branch’s failure, not one belonging to Congress. So in this regard, I believe that before President Obama points the finger at Congress and demands stricter laws, he needs to have DOJ step up enforcement of existing laws, and to show that he is determined to tighten up these loopholes in the existing system. Of course, saying that the existing laws need to be enforced is something you will not hear about, as something like that never draws the headlines.
But this fact alone does not absolve Congress of it responsibilities. Congress has oversight responsibilities for agencies such as the Justice Department. If the problems with enforcing these laws were known, Members of Congress should have been sending letters to the White House demanding immediate action. There should have been committees held, and Members of Congress should have been investigating and pressing the Attorney General on why these laws are not being more stringently enforced. If the Justice Department has failed in its obligations to enforce the laws for gun control, it is likely just as true that Congress has been absent in its oversight duties, and for that, the people need to remind them of their responsibilities to the country and to get more involved in watching over the Justice Department, and prompt them to take action.
All that being said, however, the Orlando shooter was already licensed to possess and use firearms. To me, there is a gray area here that is not being addressed, either by the gun rights activists or by the government. What happens where there are warning signs that a person that currently owns weapons and that can legally buy weapons, either starts showing signs of mental instability, or starts showing signs of radicalization? The expression of mental health issues can happen well after an individual has procured their first firearm, and can be there even as background checks show there is nothing wrong with them buying more firearms. What happens when someone reports to the FBI that a gun owner has made credible threats of violence involving their weapons, or that they are showing signs of radicalization? Right now, without enough evidence to charge the individual with a crime, the Department of Justice appears powerless to intervene, merely left to monitor, hoping nothing happens.
I have also considered the solution of using ‘watch lists’ to ban people from buying guns which has been batted around on the national stage, but I realize now that idea comes with a host of problems. For one, if the individual has broken no laws, there is an issue of privacy of being on such a list. Also, there could be people demanding that the terror watch list and/or the no fly list become a part of normal background checks (if it isn’t already), to make sure that information is shared. The problem with this is that if a person is wrongfully put on the list, terror watch lists and/or no fly watch lists can adversely affect the individual as far as employment, renting or even buying homes, with people or institutions feeling that their legal liabilities might be too high to risk interacting with the person on these lists. And the fact of the matter is that as it stands now, there is no due process in getting someone put on these lists. Right now, the various agencies can simply nominate someone to these lists, without there being a requirement that the government prove these individuals are deserving to be added to these lists. So any gun control with the existing watch lists should not be considered due to the prominent legal and constitutional issues involved with how they work.
I personally believe that if the government (specifically the federal government, the DOJ and the FBI) is given credible evidence that someone might be a threat, or during the course of an investigation, learn that an individual is showing warning signs that they may be sympathizing with a terror group, making threats against a specific individual or group or has pledged allegiance to a terror group, the DOJ and the FBI should be given the authority to take this individual to federal court and to present a case to a federal judge that shows just cause for suspending the individual’s ability to possess or buy firearms. This way, it makes the federal government have to prove just cause for restricting an individual’s constitutional rights, and it gives the individual the opportunity to present a case that disputes the government’s findings, giving them due process. I’m no lawyer, so I don’t know what burden the government would need to meet for determining an individual is a threat to their community, or what would constitute evidence that an individual is a threat. But I would suspect things like the individual regularly watching terror group-produced materials, public statements they have made either in the presence of others or on social media that they show sympathy for the terror groups or their agendas or statements they have made that advocate violence against individuals or groups and whether or not they have actually pledged allegiance to those terror groups should be evidence that they are unfit to continue buying and owning firearms. Terror groups like ISIS do not have an agenda of peace, but of murder. And if there are people out there that condone this agenda or any kind of agenda like ISIS, they clearly should not have access to firearms. The Supreme Court has said there are limits to the freedom of speech and that there can be consequences for taking your speech too far, there should be similar safeguards in place if a gun owner or a potential gun owner makes statements that could indicate a danger to their community.
In a majority of cases, if the threat presented by the individual is low enough, the guns should not be taken away from these individuals immediately, nor should they lose the right to buy guns, until they have had their opportunity in court to refute the allegations, and have made the government prove its case of having ‘just cause.’ And by doing this, the government does not generate a ‘watch list,’ but rather, it deals with matters regarding gun rights on a case by case basis, and although any procedures would take place in open court and would become a matter of public record, they would not be as readily available to the public as say, a watch list, and not as potentially devastating for the individual in terms of employment or finding housing.
Of course, there is always an argument to be made that if a person is going to kill, taking away their guns won’t stop them. They can always get in a car and mow people down a busy street, or take a knife and go on a stabbing rampage. The key here is to make it that much more difficult to mass murder people, and guns are amongst the easiest ways to achieve that goal. As society, we must admit that even though a person may not have done anything (yet) such as committing a crime to warrant their gun permits and their guns being taken away, we must acknowledge things can happen from the time they purchased their first gun to the present that has made them unsuitable for bearing weapons, and based on warning signs that individual may be giving off, that the prudent thing is when the government is aware of this situation, for it to intervene, to go through due process and show just cause for taking the individual’s rights to own and buy guns away, thereby sparing the individual from doing something they would regret with those firearms, and sparing other people in the community the loss of loved ones and friends in mass shooting incidents.
I say that most incidents of taking guns away from people should happen not until after they have had their day in court. However, there should be an exception to this. If the government considers the individual a ‘critical threat,’ if the government feels notification of these proceedings would provoke the individual to taking action, then the government should be able to act more quickly in taking those guns away and restricting access to them. The government should still be required to go to a court and get a court order before seizing weapons. But if they do, the individual should still have the right to go to court later on and have the opportunity to disprove the government’s claims about them. I am a firm believer in due process when it comes to any gun control, and this is something we must always protect.
I am no legal expert and I have no idea if this idea would be worthwhile or not. I simply know that people are demanding changes to the system, and they deserve to have their concerns and viewpoints heard, and if changes can be made that are reasonable and protect people’s rights, they should make those changes. Perhaps it is also time to consider more universal restrictions for body armor as well, as the Orlando shooter was seeking that out as a part of his plot as well. Perhaps it is time to restrict body armor to only law enforcement and military personnel only. And for its part, the administration should do what it can to improve and increase enforcement of existing laws and Congress should also be a part of the solution through its oversight of the Justice Department.
Like I said, I’m putting my ideas out there for consideration. If there are better ways out there to try and prevent what happened in Orlando from happening again, I would love to hear about them.
As a post script, today, I recently saw a news piece on a Florida state senator, a Republican running for Congress named Greg Evers, giving away an AR-15 in a contest on Independence Day. Here is the article for your consideration: http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/florida-congressional-candidate-greg-evers-announces-ar-15/story?id=40007385. For me, even though the winner has to still pass a background check, this event reeks of tone deafness, insensitivity and indifference to the pain of the victims that were killed in the Pulse club massacre. This GOP candidate should have realized this, and cancelled this particular event out of deference to the victims. This only continues to give Republicans a black eye, and makes Republicans look like they are completely oblivious to the concerns of the people for wanting to be free of mass shootings and mass murder. Incidents like these will only help make the first Tuesday of November be a very bad day for Republicans, and they should do what they can now to reduce the damage by not engaging in insensitive events such as this AR-15 giveaway. Sometimes I think the Republican Party should give their candidates an IQ test before letting them run for office, because even I admit this is at the very least bad timing. *Rolls eyes*
–Addendum: Today I read stories about the House Democrats staging a sit-in in the House chambers. This flare-up revolved around voting on bills dealing with preventing individuals from buying guns on the terror watch list and the no fly list. As I mentioned earlier in the article, there are significant constitutional and legal issues with these plans. If they were to be signed into law, they could easily be challenged in a court of law and be found unconstitiional, based on privacy issues and a lack of due process for being placed on such a list. I still hold true to the idea that if government wishes to suspend anyone’s ability to buy guns or retain the guns they currently own, the government should be authorized to take them to court and provide just cause for doing so, and for the individual to be given an opportunity to refute such claims. I think it was appropriate for Congress not blindly passing bad legislation that will ultimately be found to be unconstitutional, but at the same time, Congress should be working on legislation that would be constitutional. We also have to remember that it has barely been a week since the Orlando shooting, and crafting good legislation usually takes longer than a week. I just wish Republicans in Congress would come out and explain their opposition to these laws using these watch lists, and present alternatives themselves, as we need something to show that the Republican Party hears the complaints from the American people and is willing to work with Democrats and Independents to find a solution that people can be satisfied with. That is the definition of good governance.