Monday, November 23, 2015

Watch lists and guns

Heard on the radio this morning that the latest scare is the possibility of people on terrorist watch lists being able to legally buy guns. I understand the worry, really I do. The people on those lists are supposed to be potentially really bad guys, and if there's any one we want to keep away from guns, it would be the really bad guys.

But before we jump on board with this, please let me present a couple of reasons to think twice about using terrorist watch lists in this way.

First, what are these watch lists exactly? My understanding is that they aren't lists of people who have already done something bad. They are lists of people who are suspected of being likely to try something really bad in the future. Like Tom Cruise in The Minority Report, our protectors in law enforcement want to catch the crime before it happens. But unlike Tom Cruise, we don't have a trio of bathing precious to give us indisputable evidence from the future. We don't know what will happen, or who will do it. We only have educated guesses about might and maybe. Last I checked, we still don't want the government to treat people as criminals based on what they might do, only on what they have already done.

One more thing to think about. Why do we have these lists anyway? So that the people on them will be watched. Maybe they are "small fish" that the investigators want to follow to the "big fish". Maybe they are "big fish" that they want to catch but only after enough evidence has been gathered to put them away. Either way I think it would be sensible to avoid letting them know that they are being watched. If someone on a secret watch list tries to buy a gun legally and is turned down, oops, the secret is out. And if this someone is already planning some specific nefariousness, he's probably not going to risk going to a licensed dealer who's going to perform a background check and keep good records.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

On border security: Check your doors and windows

A responsible nation takes care for the integrity of its borders.  Just as a responsible homeowner takes care that windows and doors can be closed securely.  Not that doors have to be locked all the time if the neighborhood is safe. But just letting complete strangers come and go without knowing who they are or what they're doing is asking for trouble. Even if a cop or city worker comes to your door,  you check to make sure that they are wearing the right uniform and carrying the right credentials,  and you don't let them wander around without knowing where they are.  That's not racism or paranoia,  that's basic responsibility.

This metaphor extends to the Syrian refugee situation. Someone comes to your door claiming to be afraid for their life. Might be a neighbor you know,  might be a stranger. Might be an abused spouse,  or depending on the neighborhood, someone running from a gang fight. You want to help, but will helping put your family in danger? Do you keep the door shut, or do you let them in?

If you do let this person in, you still have to be careful. It's a bad world, and while you want to be a good host, and you don't want to treat them with automatic suspicion,  especially if they are really running from trouble, you are taking a risk. It could be a scam. You have to exercise caution.

Obama has ridiculed state governors for not wanting to take in refugees. He says that they are afraid of "widows and orphans". If it were just widows and orphans, there would be no issue here. The opposition to Obama's refugee resettlement programs comes from a lack of trust in the federal government's ability to act with that basic caution I'm talking about. This administration has a history of action based on snap judgment and ideology.