Maybe It's Time for Gun Owners and Muslim Advocates to Join Hands
What do gun bans and travel bans have in common?
This is just a wild guess, but the folks at the National Rifle Association and the folks at the Council on American-Islamic Relations probably don't sit around thinking about ways they can collaborate for the good of their mutual interests. Maybe they should.
Last week law-enforcement officials charged almost two dozen Virginians who allegedly took part in a gun-running ring. The accused bought boatloads of firearms in Virginia and sold them in New York City for exorbitant sums. The tough gun-control laws in New York have made gun-running very profitable, and the repeal of Virginia's one-gun-a-month law four years ago has made it very easy.
Naturally, this has inspired gun-control advocates to suggest the law should be reinstated. The General Assembly passed the law largely to dry up the "iron pipeline" between Virginia and New York, and while it was in effect it seemed to work as intended, at least in the early years. With the law repealed, gun-runners seem to have gotten back into business, and one was recorded making light of Virginia's ostensibly lax gun laws: "There's no limit to how many guns I can go buy from the store," Antwan Walker said. "In Virginia, our laws are so little, I can give guns away."
A few things about the story bear noting: Two of the ringleaders are violent convicts. Some of the bulk firearm sales were effected through straw purchases, which are illegal. And shipping the guns up to New York also is illegal. That is, after all, why authorities were able to bring charges in the first place.
This should chasten gun-control advocates, since it shows that the system works: Guns were seized and bad guys charged, and a successful operation makes an odd basis on which to build a case for even more restrictions. But the outcome also should chasten gun-control opponents, since laws against gun-running and straw purchases are part of gun control. Not every attempt at gun control is an abject failure.
Yet a bigger point needs drawing out. The trouble with the one-gun-a-month law is that it truncates the rights of all Virginians, in order to thwart the designs of a minuscule minority who want to run guns to New York. To the ordinary gun owner in Virginia, who follows the law and leaves other people alone unless they mess with him first, it must seem brutally unfair to restrict his right to keep and bear arms because of something somebody else did, or might do in the future.
And this is precisely how the Trump administration's assaults on Muslims must seem to persons of the Islamic faith. The vast majority of them pose no threat to anyone, and never will. Hence President Trump's campaign talk of a ban on Muslims and his administration's restrictions on travel from certain Islamic countries seem brutally unfair as well.
Not only that, they seem ineffective. Of the 10 fatal terrorist attacks linked to Islamic radicalism that have occurred on U.S. soil since (and including) 9/11, not one of them would have been thwarted by the sort of ban that Trump imposed and will impose again, in slightly altered form, on Thursday.
Defenders of the travel ban probably would reply that the ban might prevent such attacks in the future. This is how advocates of gun control support their position, too: Everybody is a peaceful, law-abiding citizen—right up until the moment he commits a violent crime. And since we can't predict with perfect accuracy who will commit a crime at some point in the indeterminate future, the best answer is to place restrictions on everybody.
Hence, one can build a utilitarian case for policies like one-gun-a-month and the Trump travel ban: Yes, they inconvenience a certain number of people, but the inconvenience of all those people in the aggregate still does not outweigh the ghastly horror of a rampage killing or a terrorist attack. Better safe than sorry.
Utilitarianism is great when you're trying to plan bus routes. But it is incompatible with America's regard for individual rights: You can't restrict the liberties of someone who has done nothing wrong because of what some other person did in the past—or theoretically might do in the future. Which is why maybe the NRA and CAIR should talk. Because that principle protects both the gun owner and the person of faith alike.
And every other one of us, too.
This column originally appeared at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.