COMMENTARY: Democrats are finally standing up to the partisan stonewalling of Republicans in Congress and the influence of the NRA. In the wake of the slaughter of 49 people in Orlando, they’re proposing banning gun sales to people on terrorist watch lists.
But the Democrats’ newfound spine is overshadowed by the fact that they are picking the wrong fight.
The secret government watch lists flag an unknown number of Americans as possible terrorists. Many probably are dangerous. But others wrongly end up on such lists. Actor Mark Ruffalo was reportedly put on a watch list in 2010 because he spoke out against natural gas drilling. You and I could also end up on a list.
Members of Congress have been mistaken for people on lists. So has someone I know. The lists are deeply flawed and disproportionately affect Arab Americans and other people of color – and that’s why they shouldn’t be used to take away people’s rights.
In an effort address Second Amendment concerns, Democrats have proposed an appeals process for those who are wrongly denied the constitutional right to buy a gun. That sort of take-first, question-later attitude toward people’s rights worries me.
The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld an individual’s right to own a firearm. Looking for loopholes around constitutional rights in the interest of security sets a bad precedent. It also discriminates against the poor – who have less ability to challenge government action and are disproportionately people of color.
The party of the left claims to be the defender of people’s rights and working to dismantle structural racism. That’s not apparent right now.
But that isn’t surprising. After all, Democratic President Barack Obama gave the OK to assassinate an American citizen who arguably had a right to a trial. Obama also expanded domestic warrantless spying.
And presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, not presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, has the apparent financial backing of the military industrial complex.
Our last Republican president, George W. Bush, prioritized security over our rights. Obama has ramped up those efforts. What’s next? Will our government seek the authority to take other constitutional rights too?
It’s happened before, and some want to take us back to horrible moments in America’s history. Trump suggests banning Muslims from entering the United States. Possible Trump running mate Newt Gingrich wants to revive the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee, which began in the 1930s as an attempt to stop Nazism but became a witch-hunt targeting celebrities, artists, activists and scholars.
We need to address mass shootings and other homicides. We should fight for sensible gun-regulation proposals like requiring background checks for purchases at gun shows.
But we must also guard against an overreaching and discriminatory police state. U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor recently railed against a majority ruling letting law enforcement use in court some evidence obtained during unlawful stops.
“This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification, and check it for outstanding traffic warrants – even if you are doing nothing wrong,” Sotomayor wrote, adding that the ruling “implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged.”
She’s right. Democrats in Congress should heed her warning in the gun debate.