Since the attack earlier this month that killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Americans have been debating how to best respond to so-called lone wolf attacks — those carried out by one or two self-radicalized people who’ve had no official contact with terror networks — that have become an increasing problem. (Other examples: the San Bernardino, Calif., shooting and the failed attempt to attack a draw Muhammad contest in Texas.)
Is more monitoring and restriction of Muslims necessary, or is it time to crack down on guns? Or are other methods required? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the issue.
Unless we want to try to make the pre-crime determinations of Tom Cruise’s Minority Report come true, there may not be much more authorities can do to prevent lone wolf attacks.
Consider this: The Orlando gunman was on the radar of federal authorities long before he committed the attack. Officials investigated, found no definitive connection to terrorism and closed the case. Could they have done more? Maybe, but maybe not.
Unfortunately, it’s sometimes the case that you can’t know a homicidal terrorist is a homicidal terrorist until the moment he commits his act. Which means we’re likely to see these attacks now and again in the future, no matter how vigilant authorities are. There’s simply no foolproof way to stop a man — it’s usually men — bent on killing people.
When authorities investigate a case, though, they often look at two factors in assessing a suspect: Did he have the motive? Did he have the means? Did he have the opportunity?
We need to do something about the “means.” The Orlando attacker used a high-power semi-automatic rifle with a large, easily reloadable magazine. This allowed him to kill or injure a large number of people in a relatively short time. Most people recognize such a gun for what it plainly is: An assault weapon.
Though the Supreme Court has ruled the Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms, there’s reason to believe it might make an exception for assault weapons. One: The feds actually did ban assault weapons for a while during the 1990s. Two: The court this week refused to hear a challenge to a Connecticut law banning assault weapons, passed in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre.
Banning assault weapons may not be a panacea. And it might be too late: Five million Americans reportedly already own the AR-15 or one of its variants.
But the right to an assault weapon isn’t — or shouldn’t be — more sacrosanct than the thousands of American lives lost, unfairly and brutally, to gun violence each year. Want to reduce lone wolf attacks? Let’s make it more difficult to acquire the tools of death.
Can we please banish this assault weapons bogeyman? Fact is, the much-touted federal ban on certain weapons with certain scary looking cosmetic features had no discernable effect on gun crime, which had already started falling in the 1990s anyway.
Nor did the federal ban’s expiration in 2004 unleash a torrent of bloodshed. The murder rate kept falling, despite scaremongering from Democrats.
And let’s talk about those statistics for a moment. The press lately has bandied about the talking point that assault weapons have been used in a quarter of recent mass shootings (defined by the FBI as four or more people shot or killed in a single incident). But the more accurate figure is the overall murder rate. In 2003, the last full year the federal ban was in effect, the FBI says rifles — which include those awful, no good assault weapons — were used in about 3 percent of murders. In 2014, they were used in less than 2 percent of murders.
Far more people were stabbed or beaten to death in 2014 than were killed by an assault weapon.
Now, you could say one death by an assault weapon is one too many. But the same is true of any intentional killing. Only with guns do some people blame the instrument rather than the user.
This shabby gun control debate is but one symptom of the post-constitutional era we’re living in now. Americans over 40 should be old enough to remember Democrats were once sticklers for due process of law. And they still are where abortion, illegal immigration and radical Islamic mosques are concerned.
But many elected Democrats seem to think their oath to “protect and defend the Constitution” depends upon the political agenda of the hour. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., complained on MSNBC the other day that “due process is what’s killing us right now.”
And after Senate Republicans stopped a bill that would have denied anyone appearing on a secret list their constitutional right to keep and bear arms, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said, referring to the Islamic State, “Republicans have decided to sell weapons to ISIS.”
No, Republicans decided to uphold the Constitution in the face of the Democrats’ demagoguery. There really is a difference.
Ben Boychuk (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Joel Mathis (email@example.com) is associate editor for Philadelphia Magazine. Visit them on Facebook: www.facebook.com/benandjoel.