In the wake of the Orlando shooting, the Democratic Party has mounted a major push on gun control policy. On the one hand, it's nice to see the party finally attempting to move the ball on a very important issue. On the other, the way they're doing it is staggeringly awful — pushing a doomed message bill that is blatantly unconstitutional and then selling it with Dick Cheney-esque terror-baiting.
After Sen. Christopher Murphy's (D-Conn.) filibuster shaming Senate Republicans for not allowing a vote on gun policy, there were four options up for a vote: two from Democrats and two from Republicans. All were themselves filibustered and failed. Two had to do with background checks, and there the Democrats were more or less on solid ground. The real problem came with the other two, which had to do with granting the government power to restrict gun purchases to certain people.
The Democratic proposal, introduced by California's Dianne Feinstein, was to grant the Department of Justice the power to scrutinize gun purchases from anyone who has been investigated for terrorism. The government could then deny the sale if:
...the Attorney General determines, based on the totality of the circumstances, that the transferee represents a threat to public safety based on a reasonable suspicion that the transferee is engaged, or has been engaged, in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism, or providing material support or resources thereof. [Congressional Record]
Almost every Republican voted against this, so it could not overcome a filibuster. They argued it was a blatant violation of due process and Second Amendment rights, because there is no judicial proceeding before someone loses his or her right to own a gun — only afterwards can he or she go to court to try and get it back (and good luck with that).
Republicans are unquestionably right about this. The Fifth Amendment says that "no person...shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law." Like it or not, the Supreme Court has affirmed a positive right for ordinary American citizens to own guns. Taking that away without any due process of law is almost certainly unconstitutional.
I suspect some liberals evince little concern with the due process when it comes to guns because it seems like the fewer the guns in circulation, the better. If a few people lose their right to buy because they're caught up in the hundreds of thousands of people investigated for terrorism, so what? The ends justify the means.
But this is very dangerous logic indeed. If gun rights can be taken away because they're politically inconvenient, then that's a terrible precedent set for freedom of religion, speech, the press, and so on. The Bill of Rights has taken enough of a beating from the Bush/Obama security apparatus already for Democrats to be endorsing another angle of attack — and there are plenty of routes toward sensible gun policy that aren't egregious violations of elementary liberal principles.
Indeed, Republicans themselves proposed one that was at least marginally better — requiring the government to prove to a judge within 72 hours that the suspect was actually a terror risk before taking away his rights. But Democrats voted it down, saying that was too short a time. As Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) previously argued, on guns, we can't afford civil liberties: "[D]ue process is what's killing us right now." Even Bernie Sanders, who previously came under fire for being too sympathetic to gun rights, voted for this turkey.
When it comes to terrorism, this is precisely the logic of belligerent neoconservatism. We can't have freedom, it's too risky. Others went even further. Here's supposed progressive hero Elizabeth Warren:
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) June 20, 2016
Object to this bill on due process grounds, and you're basically in league with ISIS. If Cheney were going to sell gun policy, that's how he would do it.
Now, I get why they Democrats are doing this. They know that any reasonable gun control bill cannot possibly get through the House of Representatives, so they were searching for ideas they knew would fail so they could hang them on Senate Republicans who are up for reelection this year. And as far as political tactics go, there's nothing wrong with pushing a message bill.
But the message should not be based on neoconservative poison.