I usually don’t dip my feet into the perilous waters of the gun-control debate for several reasons: I’m not a gun-owner, guns have never interested me as either a pastime or culturally, and having the capacity to end people’s lives easily unnerves me. Be this as it may, I still strongly oppose gun control and Obama’s latest comments on the matter are ridiculous enough to warrant criticism.
Last Sunday, Obama remarked on the horrific shooting in San Bernardino saying, “What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semi-automatic weapon?” Encouragingly, everyone from the LA Times to the The Atlantic criticized Obama’s stance, as did the ACLU. His critics generally agreed that the process wasn’t a good means to control guns. Mostly because the list is created through a secretive process that is highly unaccountable to those affected.
As the LA Times explains, “One problem is that the people on the no-fly list (as well as the broader terror watch list from which it is drawn) have not been convicted of doing anything wrong. They are merely suspected of having terror connections. And the United States doesn’t generally punish or penalize people unless and until they have been charged and convicted of a crime.”
I’d argue that even the word “generally” here is more charitable than the US government deserves. After all, torture sites such as Guantanamo Bay are still open and have, at this point, been open for over a decade. These are places that often disregard due process through secret military courts. But these lists and secret courts lack accountability, and that means there are going to be mistakes. Estimates vary, but according to documents obtained by The Intercept at least 47,000 people are on the no-fly list as of 2013.
We’ve seen the mistakes play out over the years. We’ve seen the late Senator Ted Kennedy stopped, people who share the name as someone on the list stopped, people who merely visited other countries (including veterans) stopped, and more. The real irony in this is that if anyone should be on a “list” for being associated with terrorism, it’s the US government.
Here’s an organization that has directly and indirectly funded, caused and aided terrorism over the decades. A short list of the US government’s terrorist activities includes: Its installation of dictatorial governments in foreign countries, sending money directly to oppressive “anti-communist” regimes, and giving arms to terrorist organizations simply because they oppose the US government’s enemies. These activities, combined with its now constant bombing across the Middle East and Africa, invite blowback against Americans at home and abroad.
As the anarchist Voltairine de Cleyre once said, “These creatures who drill men in the science of killing, who put guns and clubs in hands they train to shoot and strike, who hail with delight the latest inventions in explosives, who exult in the machine that can kill the most with the least expenditure of energy, who declare a war of extermination upon people who do not want their civilization, who ravish, and burn, and garrote, and guillotine, and hang, and electrocute, they have the impertinence to talk about the unrighteousness of force!”
Likewise, the fact that Obama pretends to have the moral authority to call out “the unrighteousness of force” means, in contrast to the ACLU’s position, the no-fly list is far beyond reform. So instead, let’s think bigger and build better, aim towards a free society where secret courts, lists and torture centers aren’t the norm. A society where we will be educated in the spirit of living in harmony and peace, not war and secret surveillance. A world where the state has no need to exist and we have every capacity to live freely.