There are tens of thousands of people, including U.S. citizens, who may not travel on a commercial airline. The reason is mostly well-known: their names appear on the "no-fly" list" maintained by the Department of Homeland Security. According to DHS, these individuals pose a threat to the lives and well-being of other passengers. No amount of screening or inspection will permit them to board an airplane for business or pleasure. Their very attempt to do so holds the potential for domestic terrorism.
To be sure, there are appeal processes in place and the lists are reviewed on a continuing basis in an attempt to keep them accurate. Those processes are being reviewed by the courts right now. But I feel safer boarding an American airliner knowing these individuals will not be putting my life at risk.
Believe it or not, a person who cannot be trusted to buy a ticket to Boise or Birmingham is not disqualified from buying a gun.
Federal restrictions on gun purchases by citizens are minimal and mostly apply (when observed and enforced) to convicted criminals, fugitives from justice and those with documented mental illnesses. Many of those restrictions can be overruled by state laws.
But an American deemed too dangerous to get past the TSA checkpoint at any U.S. airport can still buy an assault weapon with virtually no restrictions in 42 states. By the way, so can any citizen. The restrictions on handguns and assault weapons are exactly the same for hunters, gunsport enthusiasts, collectors and people suspected of wanting to blow up a plane filled with innocent people.
So here is a dilemma for those of you among the five million members of the National Rifle Association. Do you believe that the right to bear arms should be extended to individuals who have been identified as unsafe to occupy seat 19B on a flight from Atlanta to Dallas? (You can carry a weapon just about anywhere in both cities.)
And here is the question to the other 143,311 million registered voters in the United States. What will we do about it?
Opponents of further restrictions on gun ownership and access insist that enforcement of existing laws can keep guns out of the hands of those most likely to do harm with them. They have well-rehearsed arguments that are trotted out when our children are shot in school or on a playground, when disagreements are settled with a shotgun blast, or when a family squabble results in tragedy. Mostly they boil down to, "How could we have known?"
But being identified as someone too untrustworthy to be in close quarters with strangers on a passenger jet strikes me as a good first step in questioning the need for an AK-47.
Is there a slippery slope we risk by restricting gun ownership by people on the "no-fly" list? If we determine that there is positive benefit to society in limiting the access of people with presumed violent intentions from owning firearms, might that definition be expanded to include others whose commitment to gun safety, responsible ownership and lawful use is demonstrably questionable?
I sure hope so.
Come on, folks. Use the power of the ballot to make for wiser policy regarding the power of the bullet. Vote for candidates who will legislate smarter gun safety regulations.
Thanks to Ed Levien for his help.