As­sault weapons must be banned

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - Eugene Robin­son

— The only rea­son­able re­sponse to the mas­sacre in Or­lando is to ban the sale of mil­i­tary- style as­sault weapons. All else, I’m afraid, is just noise.

If this en­sconces me in an ide­o­log­i­cal corner, I’m fine with that. If it in­sults the Con­sti­tu­tion, so be it — any other re­sponse would do far greater harm to our free­doms. Or we could ar­gue for a while and then do noth­ing. We’ve tried that course of ac­tion many times, and it doesn’t work.

An Is­lamic State sym­pa­thizer was able to go into a gun store days or weeks ago and buy both a pis­tol and an AR- 15- style semi­au­to­matic as­sault ri­fle, which he used to kill 49 men and women at the Pulse night­club in Or­lando. Had he been armed with the pis­tol alone, he still would have killed peo­ple — but not so many. Keep­ing mil­i­tary- grade com­bat weapons out of the hands of ma­ni­acs should not be a con­tro­ver­sial idea.

The Sec­ond Amend­ment en­shrines the right to keep and bear arms, and the Supreme Court has ruled that this is an in­di­vid­ual right, not a col­lec­tive one. The court has made clear, how­ever, that this does not pre­clude rea­son­able gun con­trol mea­sures. Not all weapons must be con­sid­ered suitable for pri­vate hands.

When the framers wrote of “arms,” they were think­ing about mus­kets and sin­gle- shot pis­tols. They could not have fore­seen mod­ern ri­fles or high- ca­pac­ity mag­a­zines. They lived at a time when it was im­pos­si­ble to imag­ine one man barg­ing into a crowded room and killing more than one or two peo­ple be­fore hav­ing to reload and surely be­ing sub­dued. To­day it is not only imag­in­able but trag­i­cally com­mon­place.

No hunter needs an AR-15 to bring down a deer. None of us needs such a weapon to de­fend our fam­i­lies against in­trud­ers. And for those who be­lieve as­sault ri­fles of­fer pro­tec­tion against a hy­po­thet­i­cal tyran­ni­cal govern­ment — or who per­haps con­sider the present govern­ment a tyranny — I have sober­ing news: If and when the black he­li­copters come, they will be ac­com­pa­nied by tanks.

Why fo­cus ex­clu­sively on the guns? Be­cause other pro­posed so­lu­tions would vi­o­late the let­ter and spirit of the Con­sti­tu­tion — and surely wouldn’t work any­way.

One of the pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates — I don’t want to sully this col­umn with his name — has sug­gested a ban on Mus­lim im­mi­gra­tion. The idea would be laugh­able if it were


not so dan­ger­ously un-Amer­i­can.

First, it would be use­less. The Or­lando mur­derer — I don’t want to use his name, ei­ther — was born not over­seas but in New York, just like the pres­i­den­tial can­di­date in ques­tion. And in the San Bernardino killing spree, also in­spired by the Is­lamic State, the wife was an im­mi­grant but the hus­band was born in the United States. The sel­f­rad­i­cal­iza­tion of Amer­i­can cit­i­zens is not go­ing to be solved by ban­ning all believers in Is­lam from en­try.

Which would be im­pos­si­ble, of course. I sup­pose im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cers could ask ev­ery for­eign vis­i­tor whether he or she is a Mus­lim, but then what? If the an­swer is no, wave them through? Stop them for fur­ther ques­tion­ing if they “look” Mus­lim, what­ever that means? Don’t you think Is­lamic State op­er­a­tives might be smart enough to have Bi­bles in their carry- on rather than Qu­rans?

At­tempt­ing such a pro­hi­bi­tion would also be ob­scene in a na­tion that en­shrines reli­gious free­dom in the First Amend­ment. Enough said about this loath­some idea.

An­other pos­si­ble re­sponse would in­volve more vig­i­lant surveil­lance. The Or­lando shooter had been in­ter­viewed by the FBI at least twice be­cause of alleged ex­trem­ist lean­ings or con­nec­tions. He was ap­par­ently on a ter­ror­ism watch list for a time, but was re­moved af­ter au­thor­i­ties de­cided there was no need to keep him un­der sus­pi­cion.

By all means, Congress should im­me­di­ately ban gun sales to any­one on such a watch list. But that wouldn’t have helped in Or­lando. No level of surveil­lance re­motely per­mis­si­ble un­der the Con­sti­tu­tion would al­low au­thor­i­ties to de­tect all in­stances of self- rad­i­cal­iza­tion and act on them. We put peo­ple in jail for what they do, not what they think.

Should there be univer­sal back­ground checks for gun pur­chases? Yes, of course. But the Or­lando killer passed a back­ground check. It is not pos­si­ble to have a free so­ci­ety with­out the pre­sump­tion of in­no­cence.

Free­dom is pos­si­ble, how­ever, with­out the right to buy mil­i­tary weapons de­signed for killing sprees. Ban­ning them would not end mass killings, but it would mean fewer deaths. If we do not act, the blood of fu­ture vic­tims will be on all of our hands.

Eugene Robin­son is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at eu­gen­er­obin­son@ wash­post. com.

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