Editor’s Note: David R. Wheeler is a freelance writer and a journalism professor at the University of Tampa. Follow him on Twitter: @David_R_Wheeler. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
The GOP is blocking a law that would prevent known and suspected terrorists from buying guns
David Wheeler: If you know Republicans, consider giving them the gift of a reality check
During this holiday season, if some of your loved ones are Republican, consider giving them the gift of a reality check.
I know there are plenty of sane Republicans out there. I’ve met some. In fact, years ago, I was a registered Republican myself. That phase lasted right up to the point where I noticed a new world order of haves and have-nots, with terms dictated by Wall Street and Silicon Valley. Nowadays, I stare at the party in bewilderment.
The latest mind-numbing puzzle: The GOP is blocking a law that would prevent known and suspected terrorists from buying guns.
This is not just a what-if scenario. The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office recently released a report showing that from 2004 to 2014, people on terrorism watch lists successfully purchased guns no fewer than 2,043 times.
Yes, you read that right.
In light of the horrific shooting in San Bernardino, California, that killed at least 14 people, President Barack Obama spoke on Wednesday about the need to reform gun laws.
He also added, “For those who are concerned about terrorism of, you know, some may be aware of the fact that we have a no fly list where people can’t get on planes, but those same people who we don’t allow to fly could go into a store right now in the United States and buy a firearm and there’s nothing that we can do to stop them.”
There are 700,000 people on the terrorist watch list, and when these people tried to legally purchase guns, they had a success rate of 91%.
“Membership in a terrorist organization does not prohibit a person from possessing firearms or explosives under current federal law,” the GAO warned back in 2010.
This situation has a simple solution: Pass a law that stops known and suspected terrorists from buying guns.
In fact, just such a bill was introduced earlier this year, and it has a pretty straightforward name: The Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2015. It was introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, and Rep. Peter King, R-New York – one of those sane Republicans I was talking about.
Can you guess which villain defeated the bill? I’ll give you a hint: The initials are NRA.
“It’s sort of a knee-jerk reaction,” King told the New York Daily News. “The National Rifle Association is strongly opposed to it, and the fact is we have only a handful of Republican co-sponsors.”
That’s right. The National Rifle Association is so powerful that it can ensure that common-sense bills keeping guns away from potential terrorists are blocked in Congress.
In objecting to versions of the bill, the NRA used the same worn-out rhetoric they’ve been using for decades; namely, passing such a law won’t stop criminals from illegally acquiring guns.
There is no law that would stop all criminals from ever using a gun. But we need every tool possible to fight gun violence, especially in an era when mass shootings have become a regular occurrence and when terrorists use guns as their weapon of choice.
When George W. Bush was president, he was one of those Republicans who often ignored calls for a reality check. But even he understood the need to fix this loophole in the law. In 2007, his administration proposed the legislation, but by the time it was introduced two years later, the NRA called up its buddies in Congress and stopped the bill.
After the terror attacks in Paris last month, some gun-rights advocates in the United States pointed out that France’s strict gun-control laws did not stop the violence. But there are three important counterarguments.
First, we don’t know how many would-be attackers were successfully stopped by France’s laws. Crimes that don’t happen don’t make headlines. For national security reasons, it’s rare to hear about thwarted plots.
Second, the numbers show a definitive contrast regarding gun violence between our countries. In France, the gun death rate is about 2.83 per 100,000 people; in the U.S. it’s 10.69 per 100,000 people. In other words, the U.S. gun death rate is more than triple that of France.
The third counterargument, and perhaps most important one, is the message we’re sending by failing to act.
If we can’t close a loophole that allows known and suspected terrorists to legally purchase guns, what does that say about us? What does that say about special interest groups’ ability to “buy” politicians? What are our children learning about how democracy works in America when even the majority of gun owners support laws preventing people on terror watch lists from buying guns?
This holiday season, in addition to the gifts of sweaters, ties and books that you’re giving your Republican loved ones, also consider giving them a reality check.
Their party has been overtaken by zealots, and we need rational voices to come to the rescue.