Revisiting Gun Rights for Terrorists

Some readers may remember a time not quite a year ago when I wrote an in-depth rebuttal of a New York Times Op-Ed titled “Gun Rights for Terrorists” by Mary Lewis Grow.  I am a long-time critic of the watch-lists and no-fly lists that, hypothetically, are filled with dangerous characters bent on destruction, possibly via self-destruction.  In reality, they produce penalties without due process for millions.

Well, every bad idea has its time.  And then another.  And another…

After the Oregon and San Bernardino shootings, Grow’s bad idea came back in a big way.  I’ll admit to being disappointed to see the concept I put down once return (silly, I know).

The idea returned, predictably enough, in the NYTimes, shortly before Governor Malley of Connecticut implemented the idea by executive order.  The governor and his spokesperson both made it abundantly clear that this was in fact directed at the full watch-list rather than the smaller and slightly more reasonable no fly list.

Having the opinions I do on the watch-lists, I made a foray into arguing on the internet.

When I was twelve years old, I was pulled aside by security for the first time. Being that young, I got away with a quick glance at the screen the TSA agent was using – apparently my name was flagged as an alias or associate. I have been likewise hassled on every international flight since. As I have grown up and reached adulthood, the seriousness with which the TSA take my flagged name increases.

Let my experience make this point very clear: these are not lists of suspects, but of names. A lot of names – over a million of them in 2009, and showing all signs of continuing to grow rapidly. Names put on list based on via hunches and accidents (accidents that the government nevertheless spends years hiding and defending). Names of dissidents like director Laura Poitras, who couldn’t go in or out of the US without being searched and interrogated.

If people associated with these names persevere, they MAY – after a long court case – be told for certain that they are on one of the lists, but so far have no meaningful method to defend themselves against the consequences of theses accusations, ranging from annoying to debilitating (depending on the list, and probably also on how foreign one looks).

Gun control is one debate. Expanding the penalties associated with having one’s name on these lists is another matter entirely – it is an abuse against the concept of due process and the principle of innocent until proven guilty.

I was a bit proud of fitting both emotional and rational points in a character-limited comment.  As a lesson in artistic humility, the response this comment received was delivered by the single least literate New York Times commenter I have ever seen.  Here it is in all its shining, stupid glory:


Ah, so glad I bared my child-hood tribulations to receive that.

As a matter of fact, the event I described occurred prior to an international flight, which meant I did have a passport.  The problem with the watch-lists isn’t in identity verification, it’s in the fact that your fully verified name, attached to your fully innocent self, will still trigger the alert – because the name is on the list, not you.  But you still get to suffer for your name’s alleged guilt.


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