Guns for Terrorists?

By Susan Estrich

December 11, 2015 5 min read

Are you for or against guns for terrorists?

Do people who have been identified by our law enforcement agencies as too dangerous to fly — folks on the "no-fly" list — nonetheless have the right to buy guns?

According to the Republicans running for president, apparently they do. All four Republican senators seeking the top spot voted last week against expanded background checks for gun purchasers.

"What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semiautomatic weapon?" President Obama said. "This is a matter of national security."

But response to his proposal to ban gun purchases by individuals identified as possible terrorists has split along the usual party lines.

Help me understand this. We have folks on the Republican side who want to ban all Muslims from entering this country or to create a Muslim registry, and they find no constitutional problems there; but when it comes to keeping ISIS supporters from buying guns, well, that must violate the Second Amendment!

It doesn't.

It's true that the no-fly list isn't foolproof. Sometimes people are on there by mistake. The late Ted Kennedy once found himself on the list. But that's no reason to let everyone on the list board a plane. We would be horrified at that "answer." Of course, give people a means to get off the list if they've been wrongly included. But don't give them boarding passes or allow them to buy guns.

Why do law-abiding gun owners object so strongly to keeping guns out of the hands of those who would use them against innocent people? An expanded background check that includes terrorists should pose absolutely no risk to them. And the minor inconvenience of having the same name as someone on the no-fly list (an inconvenience more likely to be endured by people with common Muslim names, not you and me, by the way) is the price for keeping the skies safe. And it's the price for keeping a holiday gathering in San Bernardino from turning into the scene of a massacre.

Gun politics are as good an example as you'll find of the failure of pluralist democracy. A majority of Americans favor reasonable restrictions on who can buy guns. Will such restrictions mean that criminals will no longer be able to secure guns? No. But the next question never gets asked: Will such restrictions mean law-abiding citizens can't secure guns? No. So why shouldn't we at least make it more difficult for terrorists to arm themselves, and more risky for them to buy guns?

There is the matter of licenses, as well. As every parent will tell you, giving a teen the car keys — the keys to what can be a weapon of mass destruction — is a terrifying moment. But at least they need to be licensed before they get those keys. They need to pass two tests to show they understand and can follow the rules of the road and operate a car safely.

Why shouldn't we be at least as careful with weapons whose only function is destruction?

The NRA tries to present every issue of gun regulation — no matter how reasonable, no matter how little such regulation would impact law-abiding citizens — as the toe of the elephant that, if it gets in the door, will proceed to take your gun away.

No one is going to take your gun away, unless you lied to get it or have been found to be mentally unstable, a danger to yourself and others — or, if Obama gets his way, unless you're a suspected terrorist.

So, this week, Republicans adopted the cause of suspected terrorists, defending their rights to access guns. Can you imagine what they'd do if the tables were turned, and the GOP could pin a shooting on lax Democratic policy? There would be shades of William "Willie" Horton, no doubt. But when the NRA says jump, there are too many in Congress whose only response is: How high? In this case, the answer was way too high. If Democrats were doing it, they'd accuse us of jumping into the arms of terrorists.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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