Enough with the spectacle: How about we just ban all assault weapons instead?

The Dems’ campaign should inspire nothing but cynicism — our gun problem has nothing to do with terror watch lists

Published June 23, 2016 7:29PM (EDT)

Detective Barbara J. Mattson, of the Connecticut State Police, holds up a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle, the same make and model of gun used by Adam Lanza in the Sandy Hook School shooting, Jan. 28, 2013.   (AP/Jessica Hill)
Detective Barbara J. Mattson, of the Connecticut State Police, holds up a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle, the same make and model of gun used by Adam Lanza in the Sandy Hook School shooting, Jan. 28, 2013. (AP/Jessica Hill)

“They know that we will not bring a bill that takes away a person’s constitutionally guaranteed rights...without due process,” said Paul Ryan, dismissing the recently terminated Democratic sit-in for legislation that would bar those on government terror watch lists from purchasing guns as a “publicity stunt.”

Clearly, Republicans don’t actually care about civil liberties except where it concerns their distorted reading of the Second Amendment, or about civil rights aside from a twisted conception related to the interests of the white majority. But it’s true that the sit in, and the entire campaign to bar those on the terror watch lists, is nothing more than a really bad idea generated at the intersection of social-media-era public relations, a partisan general election, bloody tragedy and the grinding war on terror.

The legislation would not stop the vast majority of shooters, minor and major, from buying guns and would bolster the legitimacy of Orwellian watch lists that are discriminatory and entirely fail to give those trapped on them anything resembling due process rights.

“We oppose the Terrorist Firearms Prevention Act of 2016 because it appears to limit the ban on firearms purchases to American Muslims and seems to be more concerned about an appeals process to obtain a firearm, instead of creating a similar process for listed individuals to challenge watch list designations,” the Council on American-Islamic Relations said in a statement. “It would seem the Senate is willing to only apply constitutional limitations on the American Muslim community, which is disproportionately impacted by federal watch lists.”

The campaign isn’t about gun control. Banning assault weapons would be gun control. Instead, this is a ploy born of election-season opportunism: how better to flip the script on Republicans than by accusing them of facilitating the transfer of weaponry to ISIS? “Who’s soft on terror now?” the advertisements will say.

The Democrats’ campaign, however, should inspire nothing but cynicism. The terror watch lists, as the ACLU has tried to argue amid deafening liberal war cries, are brazen rights violations.

Gun violence in America, by and large, has nothing to do with suspected terrorists buying guns. Rather, it is rooted in the fact that far too many ordinary Americans have guns, including high-powered assault rifles like those used in Orlando and Sandy Hook. And the vast majority of gun deaths, of course, occur in poor, non-white neighborhoods, often as a result of internecine feuds fomented by poverty and marginalization.

But the imagination of gun control advocates is all the time warped by America’s worst policy instincts. Measures to deal with urban gun violence by toughening sentences for illegal gun possession fuel the long-term growth of the prison system and fail to address the issues underlying street conflicts. Attempting to stem mass shootings by leveraging despotic watch lists and scapegoating Islamic terrorism will likewise evade root causes and ideologically legitimizes the treatment of terrorism suspects, broadly conceived in the hundreds of thousands by a voracious security state, as bona fide terrorists.

The Democrats are trying to beat Republicans at a war-on-terror contest that has always played to the right’s advantage. It’s a fight that can’t be “won” because the only possible winner is the security state and a war on terror that will emerge more resilient and less vulnerable to challenge. Liberals briefly insisted that the Orlando attack be viewed through the prism of homophobia and guns, and not primarily as an act of critical-thought-stopping terrorism. That, apparently, has changed. And that’s profoundly sad. If the goal is to ban assault weapons, the demand should be that they be banned. Taking a ban off the table in the face of Republican intransience, in exchange for these absurd and harmful half measures that will also go nowhere anytime soon, strictly limits the possibility that a real debate will go anywhere in the future.

This is not gun control. Democrats are sitting in to give up real gun control and also the slightest pretense that the war on terror has been an unmitigated disaster that must be brought to an end.

By Daniel Denvir

Daniel Denvir is a writer at Salon covering criminal justice, policing, education, inequality and politics. You can follow him at Twitter @DanielDenvir.

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