The Aw­ful Lessons Of Or­lando

The car­nage wrought on June 12 was no less ter­ri­ble for be­ing pre­dictable

Bloomberg Businessweek (Asia) - - BLOOMBERG VIEW -

Omar Ma­teen was a walk­ing red flag. He was abu­sive, un­sta­ble, and prone to rages. He boasted of ties to every ter­ror­ist group un­der the sun. He ex­pressed a vast cat­a­log of ha­treds and re­sent­ments. Ac­cord­ing to a for­mer col­league, he “talked about killing peo­ple all the time.”

Th­ese warn­ing signs didn’t go un­no­ticed. The FBI added Ma­teen to its main ter­ror­ist watch list, placed him un­der sur­veil­lance, prod­ded him with an in­for­mant, recorded his con­ver­sa­tions, and in­ter­ro­gated him more than once.

And yet in early June, Ma­teen walked into a gun shop, passed a back­ground check, and law­fully pur­chased a ri­fle, a hand­gun, and enough am­mu­ni­tion to sus­tain an in­sur­gency. The re­sult­ing car­nage on June 12, with 49 killed in an Or­lando night­club, was no less aw­ful for be­ing pre­dictable.

Stop­ping such pur­chases should be a pri­or­ity. The FBI is al­ready alerted, through the Na­tional In­stant Crim­i­nal Back­ground Check Sys­tem, when some­one on its ter­ror­ist watch list tries to buy a gun through a fed­er­ally li­censed dealer. Since 2004, ac­cord­ing to the Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice, peo­ple on the watch list have tried to buy or ob­tain per­mits for firearms 2,474 times. Yet fully 91 per­cent of those trans­ac­tions were al­lowed to pro­ceed.

That’s nuts. The Se­nate’s June 20 re­jec­tion of a pro­posal to pre­vent such sales com­pounds the out­rage. As ter­ror­ists in­creas­ingly turn to firearms for their at­tacks, it’s ask­ing for an­other tragedy. Own­ing a gun is a right in Amer­ica. But free­doms, even those pro­tected by the Con­sti­tu­tion, can be rea­son­ably lim­ited for rea­sons of pub­lic safety. The First Amend­ment doesn’t pro­tect fraud; the Sec­ond doesn’t ex­tend to felons or the men­tally ill. Ex­clud­ing sus­pected ter­ror­ists from arm­ing them­selves is no less sen­si­ble. It might even pre­vent the next Omar Ma­teen, the next calamity, the next round of an­guish and grief. <BW>

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