THE BLOG
05/05/2013 05:27 pm ET Updated Jul 05, 2013

Profiles in Political Hypocrisy: The U.S. Congress

Only hypocrisy and demagoguery can explain Republican opposition to gun regulation, alleging potential infringement of constitutional freedoms -- alongside Republican support for monitoring American citizens based solely on religion and empowering the government to deprive citizens of their rights, by deeming them enemy combatants.

The Congress won't restrict sales of automatic weapons and high capacity magazine ammunition, or enact universal background checks on gun purchases, claiming these measures: Restrict Americans' freedoms, inexorably lead to additional restrictions on constitutional rights, and increase the power of a government which can't be trusted. However, following the Boston Marathon bombing, these same politicians now demand suspensions of significant American rights -- without any concern for legality, the slippery path to additional restrictions on constitutional rights, whether the government will use its new powers wisely, or how religious prejudices will be inflamed.

According to Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and his primarily Republican allies in Congress, the government can't be trusted on gun control because it's the first step in a conspiracy to confiscate all guns by erasing "the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights and excise it from the U.S. Constitution." Americans, according to the NRA, need their guns to protect themselves from threats (such as Latin American drug gangs) that: "have invaded every city of significant size in the United States."

Senator Graham (Republican, SC) proudly tells us he voted against legislation that would have required universal background checks for gun purchasers, limited magazine size, and banned the sale of assault weapons -- because these limitations would allow a government which can't be trusted to restrict Americans' freedoms. And, thanks to Senator Graham and the GOP, none of these proposals became law.

We don't even know how many Americans own firearms because Congress prevented collection of this information -- since the government can't be trusted with a national firearms database.

Surprisingly, these same politicians now demand that Americans trust the government to conduct surveillance of citizens based on their religion and to decide when citizens can be detained indefinitely as enemy combatants without a right to counsel. These rights (according to the GOP) are privileges, allowed at the government's discretion. By contrast, the right to buy a private arsenal of automatic weapons without submitting to a background check is sacrosanct -- even for paranoid, out-of-touch-with-reality gun owners who (despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary) believe the U.N. is about to take over America, and President Obama is a Kenyan-born Muslim.

If this sounds harsh, let's review what's these defenders of gun rights are proposing. Senator Graham (and other GOP members of Congress), referring to the Boston Marathon bombing, insist the government can classify American citizens as "enemy combatants", thereby depriving them of their constitutional rights and allowing the military to hold them indefinitely. I have no sympathy for the suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing. But, as far as I can tell, the GOP's only criterion for when the right to counsel can be suspended, and citizens be held by the military is whenever enough Republicans demand it.

Senator Graham claims:

"Radical jihadists are trying to attack us here at home... Every day we face threats from radical Islamists and they are coming through our back yard and trying to radicalize American citizens."

Representative King (Republican, NY) demands:

"Police ... have to realize that the threat is coming from the Muslim community and increase surveillance there ... We can't be bound by political correctness. I think we need more police and more surveillance in the communities where the threat is coming from."

Since 2002, about 19 Americans have died in domestic terrorism-related incidents (this includes the three people killed in the recent Boston Marathon bombing). Over the same period, about 300,000 Americans have died from gun violence -- and overwhelmingly at the hands of Christian Americans. The death of any individual is a tragedy, but the risk from firearms vastly exceeds the risk from terrorism.

Representative King demands that police realize where the threat is coming from. Well, in any given year, about one out of 1000 1 gun-owning households will be involved in incidents of gun violence -- while only about one out of one million American Muslims 2 will be involved in a terrorist incident. Given these facts, and Republican logic, it's obvious who the police should be monitoring. But if our police ever stepped up monitoring of gun owners (anywhere near the level proposed for America's Muslims), imagine the screams from the NRA and its toadies in Congress.

Republican concerns about keeping us safe from radical jihadists are hypocritical twaddle, intended to divide Americans along religious/racial lines and distract attention from the GOP's complete lack of proposals to address a major source of death and injury in the U.S. -- gun violence. We don't have a domestic Muslim terrorism problem in the U.S. -- we do have a gun violence problem.

Notes:
(1) The United States has an estimated 50 million gun-owning households with 30,000 deaths and about 50,000 non-lethal assaults from firearms each year.

(2) The Muslim population of the United States is estimated at 2.6 million, and since 2002 the U.S. has had about two terrorist deaths per year with an Islamic connection.

Steven Strauss is an adjunct lecturer in public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Immediately prior to Harvard, he was founding Managing Director of the Center for Economic Transformation at the New York City Economic Development Corporation. Steven was one of the NYC leads for Applied Sciences NYC (Mayor Bloomberg's plan to build several new engineering and innovation centers in NYC), NYC BigApps, and many other initiatives to foster job growth, innovation and entrepreneurship. In 2010, Steven was selected as a member of the Silicon Alley 100 in NYC. He has a Ph.D. in Management from Yale University, and over 20 years' private sector work experience. Geographically, Steven has worked in the US, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. You can follow him on Twitter at: @Steven_Strauss

Subscribe to the Politics email.
How will Trump’s administration impact you?