The apparent contradiction is difficult to square. In the wake of last week’s mass shooting in Southern California, Republican policymakers are arguing more must be done to combat terrorism and protect the American public.
Fine, Democrats respond. Let’s start with curtailing the gun rights of those on the FBI’s terrorist watch-list. As President Obama put it the other day, it’s “insane” that in the United States, those who can’t buy a plane ticket can buy an arsenal of deadly weapons. If it’s currently easy for terrorists to buy guns, it’s probably time, in the name of public safety, to take steps to make it less easy.
No, Republicans reply. When the idea reached the floor of the U.S. Senate last week, 53 of the chamber’s 54 Republicans rejected the measure. GOP lawmakers insisted the gun rights of those on the terror watch-list must be protected. To paraphrase Meatloaf, Republicans would do anything to combat terrorism, but they won’t do that.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), one of three GOP presidential candidates to kill the proposal, told NBC News late last week why he refuses to support the idea.
Rubio defended that vote while speaking with reporters in New Hampshire on Friday, saying that there is no due process for individuals on the list and that sometimes people can be on the list because of a mistake or because they have a name similar to a terror suspect.“You’re talking about denying people a Second Amendment, a constitutional right because the federal government made a mistake and there’s no due process, there’s no due process by which you can go and get your name removed. I know, we’ve tried to help people in our office, it’s very difficult,” Rubio said.
On CNN yesterday, Rubio told Jake Tapper a “majority of people on the no-fly list” are there because of a bureaucratic error. “These are everyday Americans that have nothing to do with terrorism, they wind up on the no-fly list,” Rubio added, concluding that those who end up on the list shouldn’t have their Second Amendment rights “impeded with.”
At first blush, this may even seem compelling. Democrats want to keep those on the terror watch-list from building deadly arsenals, but Rubio’s point is that the watch-list itself is fundamentally flawed. Maybe the Florida senator has a point?
Not exactly. First, the idea that a “majority” of people on the no-fly list are there by mistake is simply at odds with the facts. In fact, after Tapper questioned the accuracy of Rubio’s talking point, the senator quickly walked it back, perhaps realizing that he’d exaggerated the truth too far.
Second, Rubio has been a senator for the last five years, and if he has concerns about the integrity and reliability of FBI watch-lists, why hasn’t he introduced legislation to reform and improve these lists? And if the Republican lawmaker is prepared to accept the Democratic goal – it’s worthwhile to try to keep weapons out of the hands of suspected terrorists – but he opposes the Democratic legislation, why doesn’t he offer an alternative solution?
Third, Rubio argued yesterday that “there are over 700,000 Americans on some watch-list.” The actual number is about 10,000. If the Republican senator is going to present himself as some kind of expert on the topic, he really ought to get the details right.
And finally, it’s also odd to hear Rubio champion the Second Amendment rights of those on a terror watch-list, while also dismissing the Fourth Amendment rights of the public at large. From the CNN report yesterday:
[Rubio] complained about the end of the U.S. government’s bulk collection of phone metadata.The National Security Agency’s bulk metadata collection program officially ended a week ago after lawmakers passed and President Barack Obama signed the USA Freedom Act, which limited the scope of intelligence-gathering efforts. Rubio said U.S. investigators are likely to want to know more about who Syed Rizwan Farook – a U.S. citizen and one of the gunmen who killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California – had talked to prior to his attack, and will now be reliant on phone companies’ records.
Rubio seems unfazed by the apparent contradiction. When Democrats take steps to stop suspected terrorists from buying guns, the Florida Republican positions himself as a champion of “due process” and believes the Second Amendment is sacrosanct. But moments later, Rubio also celebrates mass surveillance and the collection of American’s phone data through an expansive National Security State – because “due process” and the Fourth Amendment must be malleable given the security threat.
The same politician who says, “These are everyday Americans that have nothing to do with terrorism, they wind up on the no-fly list,” effectively follows that quote by saying, “These are everyday Americans who have nothing to do with terrorism, but their phone metadata should be chronicled in secret by government agencies.”
Perhaps Rubio hasn’t thought this through?