Gunning for Trouble

In a NY Times article which examines the absurdity of our nation’s gun laws, we find out that, in a realization of our worst fears, terrorists are taking advantage of some of the shocking gaps that remain in the legislation, which inarguably has swung too far toward protecting the most expansive interpretation of the second amendment and away from national security concerns:
If a background check shows that you are an undocumented immigrant, federal law bars you from buying a gun. If the same check shows that you have ties to Al Qaeda, you are free to buy an AK-47. That is the absurd state of the nation's gun laws, and a recent government report revealed that terrorist suspects are taking advantage of it…

The Government Accountability Office examined F.B.I. and state background checks for gun sales during a five-month period last year. It found 44 checks in which the prospective buyer turned up on a government terrorist watch list. A few of these prospective buyers were denied guns for other disqualifying factors, like a felony conviction or illegal immigration status. But 35 of the 44 people on the watch lists were able to buy guns.


Keeping terror suspects from buying guns seems like an issue the entire nation can rally around. But the National Rifle Association is, as usual, fighting even the most reasonable regulation of gun purchases. After the G.A.O. report came out, Wayne LaPierre, the N.R.A.'s executive vice president, took to the airwaves to reiterate his group's commitment to ensuring that every citizen has access to guns, and to cast doubt on the reliability of terrorist watch lists.

Unfortunately, the N.R.A. - rather than the national interest - is too often the driving force on gun policy in Congress, particularly since last November's election. Even after the G.A.O.'s disturbing revelations, the Senate has continued its work on a dangerous bill to insulate manufacturers and sellers from liability when guns harm people. If it passes, as seems increasingly likely, it will remove any fear a seller might have of being held legally responsible if he provides a gun used in a terrorist attack.
In the interest of full disclosure, I frankly believe the second amendment was written at a time when gun ownership was a necessity in a way it is not today; I don’t believe that owning a gun is warranted, unless for the purposes of hunting, a hobby I personally find distasteful, but would not seek to deny others’ rights to pursue. In any case, I take no political issue with the second amendment in and of itself (its interpretation and application are where my problems lie), and no stand against the existence of a group like the NRA, which seeks to ensure Americans are guaranteed the right extended by said amendment.

I do, however, have a big, fat problem with the NRA's tactics and with the gun laws in this country, for the reasons outlined in the above-cited article, and, as I’ve mentioned in a comments thread here before, my biggest issue with America’s gun laws is this: I could own a gun.

I have no business owning a gun—I would have no idea how to properly use it, load it, clean it, or store it. I have no earthly reason to need a gun, either—I live in a low crime area, I have a secure home (touch wood), I’m not a hunter, I’m not in a job that creates enemies and necessitates extraordinary self-protection, etc. No knowledge of guns, no reason for a gun, and likely one of the poor dopes who, if face to face with an intruder, would end up having my own gun used against me. Yet, I could have a gun in my possession in a matter of days. That’s some faulty legislation.

Now, I know that gun aficionados will tell me that most gun owners are responsible people who do know how to properly use, load, clean, and store their weapons, and that they have a legitimate reason for owning them, whether it’s home security or sport. And I’m sure that’s true. I’m sure that most gun owners are responsible; sheerly by virtue of the number of guns we have in this country, it must be. But why should potential gun owners not be compelled to show such competency before being issued a weapon? Patent lunacy. Bad policy.

Soon after Mr. Shakes moved to the US, he walked down to a local superstore, which he found endlessly fascinating—“You can buy groceries and giant tractor tires in the same place?!” Being from Britain, he was particularly intrigued by the racks of guns for sale, right next to sporting goods, which was right next to toys. When he returned home that day, he said to me, amazed, “I’ve just found out the price of murder in America: $302. Two dollars for a hunting license. Three hundred dollars for a rifle.”

$302 and very little else standing between a person with murder on his mind and the means to do it.

Even, apparently, if he's on a terrorist watch list.

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