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A Bad Guy With A Gun-Law Idea

Trump's support for the terror-watch-list ban illustrates exactly what's wrong with it

On Wednesday, presumptive Republican nominee and tangerine-hued homunculus Donald Trump announced, with his usual mix of ego and suspect grammar, "I will be meeting with the NRA, who has endorsed me, about not allowing people on the terrorist watch list, or the no fly list, to buy guns." Now, gentle reader, you might think this lacking in the usual third leg of the Trump tweet-stool! Sure, there's (1) the arrogance, and (2) the bad syntax, but what about (3) the horrifying policy proposal? Trump is endorsing the standard progressive response to our standard mass shootings, the same "common-sense" measure that Obama and others regularly deploy to illustrate the depravity of the NRA: They're OK with terrorists (well, OK, suspected terrorists) getting guns. Here's the thing, though: The terror-list gun ban is also a terrifyingly misguided idea, and it is of a piece with all of Trump's other ideas that hinge on the notion that America's problems can be solved by identifying and punishing the "bad" people who cause them.

Think about it: Of course Trump likes this idea! Trump's entire hateful worldview is built on supreme confidence in his own ability to sort out good people from bad, mostly according to their skin color or name, but also their gender, religion, and sexual orientation. The standard civil-libertarian argument against both the existence of the terror-watch list and the purchase-ban proposal is that the process by which you get on the list is murky and circumvents the right to due process. Imagining what would get you on the no-fly/no-buy list in a Trump administration is, at least, far from mysterious: It'd be brown people, mostly, and anyone else he didn't like. And while gun-rights enthusiasts, at the moment, explicitly oppose the no-buy idea, I suspect they might warm up to it over time — it would provide official cover to those who might frame their objections to selling guns to, say, Muslims as itself some degenerate form of "religious liberty." Do you really want the government to give business owners more excuses to pick and choose who they serve?

Liberals should thank Trump for supporting the terror-watch-list ban. Not because he's gracelessly added his weight to a good idea, but because Trump's support for the measure illustrates exactly what's wrong with it: The logic behind preventing people on the terrorist watch list from purchasing guns rests on the notion that preventing a certain kind of person from owning guns will significantly reduce the number of gun deaths in America. This is indistinguishable from the right's argument that the key to stopping gun violence is to ensure that "good guys" have them while "bad guys" don't. Most of the gun deaths in America are suicides; who are the bad guys in that situation? What about accidental deaths, where guns are in the hands of children or the well-intentioned?

America is the gun-death capital of the industrialized world not because we have more "bad guys" with guns than any other country, but because we have more guns. Any proposal that seeks to curb gun deaths by addressing who has the guns, rather than the mere fact of guns themselves, just perpetuates the fantasy that we can solve the problem without taking guns out of the equation. As gun-control advocates, we can't be timid about this, we can't run from the accusation "You want to take our guns." Yes, we do! It may not be a matter of confiscation, it may not be a case of outright banning of certain types of guns -- certainly, other countries have figured out how to allow citizens to own guns and still minimize the number of massacres! But any meaningful reduction in gun violence in America is going to mean reducing access to the weapons involved. This is not rocket science. This not a difficult concept to grasp. It may be, I suppose, a more subtle one than can be expressed in a tweet by a short-fingered sociopath giddy at the prospect of another way to quash dissent.