Gunbusters & Terrorists

Over at The Daily Show, Trevor Noah points out that it would seem obvious to many people that anyone on a terrorism watchlist should not be able to buy guns.  He then rightly points out that it’s quite possible that the wrong people could end up on the terrorism watchlist for political reasons rather than any evidence of wrongdoing.

Next, he points out that while we might trust the Obama administration not to do that, the incoming President who replaces him might not be so trustworthy.  And that’s something very much worth thinking about for his young and/or progressive audience who tends to trust government a bit more than seems healthy, and even more so because it’s currently overseen by a Democrat who is also our first non-white President.

But I’m going to criticize Trevor Noah here a bit for his Gunbusters segment’s lack of additional insight; while I do watch The Daily Show and enjoy Trevor Noah as the host, I am inclined to think critically about what he’s saying in a way that many of his loyal viewers won’t.  He’s a comedian delivering quips and doing hilarious impressions, not a detailed policy analysis document containing a comprehensive list of arguments and rebuttals related to a proposed policy, and yet there are some who take what he says just as seriously as I would such a policy analysis document.

For this reason, I think it’s worth pointing out that, with regard to this issue of the watchlist, it doesn’t really matter who the President of the United States happens to be in terms of party or various other characteristics.  If we don’t want a President we don’t trust to be able to put people on a list and deny them access to firearms for political reasons, then we shouldn’t give that authority to any President…because we could end up with an untrustworthy President in any election cycle.

This is the kind of principled stand that We The People have to take when it comes to limiting government authority.  We aren’t going to be able to keep that authority out of tiny, untrustworthy hands in every election cycle.  But if we remove that authority for all Presidents, there’s one less abuse of power readily available for any insecure billionaires to use, whether they’re a member of a party we agree with or a party we don’t agree with.

That won’t stop terrorists from getting guns and shooting people, but it might stop Presidents from adding political enemies to a watchlist so that they’re easier targets for assassination.  After all, keeping the power-hungry maniacs from taking over our country saves far more lives than keeping one terrorist from getting a few guns.  While a terrorist can kill a few people, a bad President can (and has in the past) killed millions with guns.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t find a way to mitigate the frequency with which terrorists acquire guns; we certainly should.  We should also put first things first, and make sure we aren’t so distracted trying to save a few dozen lives that we endanger a few million lives.

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