- - Sunday, December 20, 2015


Diogenes can take his lamp and go home to ancient Athens, satisfied that an honest man has emerged in the Obama administration. Alan Bersin, an assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, told a House oversight panel last week that using the government’s various “no fly lists” to deny Americans the right to buy a gun is nonsense.

He didn’t say it quite like that. Assistant secretaries of anything don’t dispute the president of the United States, but when a congressman asked whether he thought it appropriate to deny someone on one of the U.S. government’s “no fly” or “terrorist watch” lists their right to buy or own a gun, as the president suggests, Mr. Bersin gave a straight and honest answer.

Suggesting that anyone on those lists is seriously suspected to be a terrorist, President Obama had complained that “[such] people can’t get on planes, but those same people who we don’t allow to fly could go into a store right now in the United States and buy a firearm and there’s nothing that we can do to stop them. That’s a law that needs to be changed.”

Someone should explain to the president how these things actually work. The names of about 47,000 persons are on the various “no fly” lists and over a million are on “terrorist watch” lists compiled from nominations by various federal agencies. No one knows exactly how someone gets on the lists. James Gilmore, the former governor of Virginia who from 1999 to 2003 headed a commission that studied weapons and their availability, once observed that “if there are really that many potential terrorists in this country we might as well give up.” He couldn’t say how many actual suspects were being monitored by government agencies, but it was far, far fewer than the number of people on the lists.

Just about anyone can make it to such a list, without evidence of even a vagrant thought of mischief. The no-fly list has included members of Congress and even employees of the Department of Homeland Security. Assistant Secretary Bersin was asked whether it would make sense to deny those on these lists their Second Amendment rights just because they were on one of the lists, and he replied that no, that would be “comparing apples to oranges.”

Only one-tenth of one percent of the 47,000 persons on the no-fly lists are Americans, and it’s clear that the policymakers in the White House, to put it politely, don’t know what they’re talking about. Bullets come out of the business end of a gun, and in this administration that’s all anyone needs to know about guns, the Second Amendment and terrorism.

James Comey, the director of the FBI, told Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina at a recent Senate hearing that he was not familiar with how guns were purchased on the Internet, but assumed that a seller just mailed the gun to the customer.

In fact, a gun purchased on the Internet cannot by law be mailed directly to the purchaser, but must be sent to a licensed gun dealer who can deliver it to the buyer only after the buyer passes a background investigation conducted by Mr. Comey’s FBI. It’s difficult to understand how and why policymakers can make policy about things they don’t understand, but it’s easy to understand how their policies sometimes make no sense at all.

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