Shortly after the tragic mass-murder in Orlando, information came out that the killer had previously been investigated by the FBI and was on the terror watch list. In light of this, there has been a lot of discussion around why people who have been investigated by the FBI or are on the terrorist watch list are able to buy a firearm. Lots of people are pushing for new gun control laws that would prevent these individuals from getting their hands on a weapon. At first glance, this seems like a reasonable idea. Nobody wants criminals or terrorists to be able to get their hands on firearms that may be used to harm innocent people. However, the more that I think about this concept, the more hesitant I become about it. I want to take a moment to explain why.
In America, our criminal justice system favors the innocent. You cannot be arrested for a crime until you actually commit a crime. You are to be assumed innocent until you are proven guilty. This is in place to make sure that innocent people cannot have their rights infringed upon. If we had a system that assumed that people were guilty just because we thought that they might do something in the future or because we think that they did something, there is a good chance that an innocent person would have their rights taken away and go to prison (or worse) for a crime they did not commit. Some may say that our justice system favors the guilty, because it sometimes allows those who have committed a crime to get off because there was not enough evidence to PROVE that they are guilty. While this does happen sometimes, this is a better outcome than having innocent people locked up for crimes that they did not commit. Maintaining the rights of the innocent is more important than locking up the guilty every time (Not to say that this is not important).
At this point you may be asking what in the world out justice system has to do with terror watch lists and buying firearms. My answer is “everything”. While it sounds good to keep people on the watch list from having firearms, it goes against how our laws work. People who are on the watch list are just people who the government thinks might take some kind of terrorist action in the future. The have not actually done anything wrong yet and therefore are innocent in the eyes of the law, entitled to every right that any other innocent person has (including firearms). Let’s say that a law was put in place and a person with no terrorist ties was put on the list (which has happened). All of a sudden they cannot buy a firearm anymore because the government thinks that the person MIGHT at some point in the future commit a crime. This would create a system in which the innocent is no longer viewed as innocent, but is view as (and treated as) guilty, despite the fact that they have not yet done anything wrong. This is a huge problem and it is not a situation that we want to find ourselves in. If I thought that the government could guarantee that the only people on that list were people who were going to commit a crime in the future, I would feel differently about this whole thing, but frankly I don’t trust the abilities of any human institution that much. Only God knows the hearts of men and what they will do in the future, therefore man is completely unable to accurately put people on that kind of list. While this system may not prevent future terrorists from getting ahold of weapons, it will insure that the innocent have the right to keep and bear arms without interference. Maintaining the rights and freedom of the innocent is more important than preventing the future terrorists every time (which is an impossible task). While it would be fantastic to keep people like the Orlando killer from getting their hands on weapons by prohibiting future terrorists from getting weapons, it is not worth having innocent people treated like criminals when they had not done anything wrong. Having a government that punished people who had done nothing wrong is just as bad (and probably worse) than allowing the wrong person to get their hands on a gun.