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.

No comments: