Mateen’s Terrorist Ties and the Gun Argument

There’s a good chance that you’ve heard (or made) a comment about how the Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, had been investigated for ties to terrorism, but was still able to buy a gun. I know I did, when I heard it: a gnashing of teeth at how easy it is to get an semi-automatic rifle, how insane it is that we have decided, as a country, that these kind of killings are the price of freedom, and just something with which we have to deal, and anger at Republicans for talking about being tough on terror but refusing to close the loophole which allows people on terrorism watchlists to buy guns. That he was investigated is true, of course. Here’s from the Times: 

The F.B.I. investigated Mr. Mateen in 2013 when he made comments to co-workers suggesting he had terrorist ties, and again the next year, for possible connections to Moner Mohammad Abusalha, an American who became a suicide bomber in Syria, said Ronald Hopper, an assistant agent in charge of the bureau’s Tampa Division. But each time, the F.B.I. found no solid evidence that Mr. Mateen had any real connection to terrorism or had broken any laws.

But see: these aren’t real ties. A bragging 26-year old, looking to sound tough or maybe even joking, or whatever combination of swagger, anger, and insecurity a 26-yr-old will have (I barely remember). The other is that he might have possibly known someone who joined ISIS.

Even if he did know Abusalha, that isn’t enough to put him on a list. These are the kind of blanket connections that can ruin lives. You’re a Muslim, and you went to school with a Muslim who may be a bad guy, so you’re on the list. We’ll make it harder to fly, harder to rent a house, harder to do most everything. That it isn’t harder to buy guns is inhuman hypocrisy, of course, but that doesn’t mean these terrorism watch lists aren’t over-broad and inherently anti-liberal.

Mateen of course is a monster, a twisted wreck of hate and a poisoned culture- both the culture of ISIS and the rampant homophobia that still exists in the US. That he had the right to buy a gun that can easily kill dozens is a crime. That those rights exist easily for anyone is sickening. But the idea that any rights can be curtailed because of blanket suspicion and the merest whiff of connections is also a crime. Mateen isn’t innocent. But many innocent people are on these lists, and we shouldn’t just complain that they can get guns. We should be outraged by their overbroad existence.

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