War on Terror

It's Time to Go After Those People!

Who those people are depends on your partisan affiliation.


If recent events have taught us anything, they've taught us that Those People are going to have to give up some of their freedom. Because the rest of us just can't afford it any more.

Who Those People are, however, depends on whom you ask.

Ask some conservatives, and they'll identify Those People as Muslims. All of them.

Sure, at least 5 million Muslims live in the U.S., including many who serve in the military and law enforcement, and the number who have committed terrorist acts, like last week's attack in San Bernadino, is in the low tens. But let's say the number is far higher: 500. Even that would make the ratio of peaceful Muslims to terrorist Muslims at least 10,000 to 1.

On that basis, Donald Trump wants to create a Muslim registry and monitor mosques, and maybe even shut them down. On Monday, he called for a total ban on Muslims entering the country. And a lot of Republicans apparently think Trump has a swell idea. One poll finds that 27 percent of GOP primary voters would approve of shutting down mosques, while 38 percent would oppose the idea and the rest aren't sure.

So much for conservatives' vaunted support for religious freedom. Might as well kiss our First Amendment goodbye.

Kiss the Fourth Amendment goodbye too, while you're at it. While a majority of Republicans oppose the sort of mass surveillance conducted by the NSA until very recently, two out of five still support it. They're the ones who cheered New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie when Christie and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul sparred over domestic spying during the first Republican presidential debate in August. The Christie side might have gained the upper hand since then.

Mass surveillance of Muslims has been tried before, incidentally, by the New York Police Department, which used photo and video surveillance, informants ("mosque crawlers"), databases, and spies who could pass as Muslims of various ethnicity. The NYPD has since abandoned the practice because, among other things, it never produced any actionable intelligence. Not one single lead.

Yet to many conservatives, none of this matters.

For some liberals, Those People are gun owners. All of them. And they, like Muslims, apparently are going to have to give up a lot of their freedom, too.

Sure, at least 70 million Americans own upward of 350 million firearms (including 3.3 million Colt AR-15s), and for every violent gun owner there are thousands more who will never hurt a soul. Yet after last week's massacre the air was filled with demands that the nation Do Something about guns.

Those demands came in two types. The first is a plea for "commonsense" measures such as universal background checks, assault rifle bans, limits on magazine capacity, and (perhaps) instruction, licensing, and registration. The trouble is that, as a response to mass shootings, such measures are largely pointless. They certainly failed to stop the last one: California already has an extensive gun-control regime that (1) bans assault weapons and large-capacity magazines, (2) mandates background checks and mental-health reporting, (3) requires all firearm purchasers to obtain a safety certificate, (4) requires a 10-day waiting period, (5) limits pistol purchases to one per month, (6) requires pistol microstamping, (7) prohibits the sale of unsafe handguns, and more.

The more honest gun-control advocates concede as much, and argue that real results will come only from more sweeping measures, such as an Australia-like confiscation program. As The New York Times put it in a front-page editorial on "The Gun Epidemic in America" on Saturday, America must "drastically" reduce the number of guns in circulation, "eliminating some large categories of weapons and ammunition. . . . Yes, it would require Americans who own those kinds of weapons to give them up for the good of their fellow citizens." So say goodbye to the Second Amendment, too.

Left unmentioned by The Times was the inconvenient fact that gun homicide rates have fallen by half over the past two decades, during a period when gun laws have gotten laxer, not tougher. The number of people killed by rifles (including assault rifles) in a given year is generally fewer than 400, which makes it smaller than the number killed by hammers and other blunt instruments.

But the liberal obsession with guns, like the conservative obsession with Muslims, cares little about facts. Both are willing to truncate the rights of millions of people based on the possibility that a minuscule percentage of those millions might lash out violently at some point in the future. Which is why Muslims ought to be standing up for the rights of gun owners, and vice versa. Because the logic behind arguments to deprive Those People of their liberties is the same logic that threatens Us Folks as well.

This column originally appeared at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.