A new report from the Pew Research Center released today shows that American political partisans increasingly not only dislike those who favor the other party, but about half are actually “afraid” of them. While alarming, the finding seems fitting amidst the current atmosphere of fear-mongering and crisis exploitation coming from both sides of the aisle.
In the wake of the massacre in Orlando earlier this month, when crazed gunman Omar Mateen killed 49 people and injured many others at a gay nightclub (that he reportedly frequented) using a Sig Sauer MCX semi-automatic rifle, both Democrats and Republicans have jumped at the chance to use the incident to promote their pet policy initiatives.
On the Republican side, despite the fact that the Federal Bureau of Investigation interviewed Mateen, put him on watch lists, then took him off, legislators backed a proposal to give the FBI additional surveillance powers that critics say wouldn’t have stopped the Orlando attack. The bill, which narrowly failed to pass Wednesday, would expand the power of controversial National Security Letters and make permanent a “lone wolf” provision of the USA PATRIOT Act that had, as of last year, reportedly never been used.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) was critical of Senate GOP members, saying they were “pushing fake, knee-jerk solutions that will do nothing to prevent mass shootings or terrorist attacks.” But it was also clear Wednesday that Republicans aren’t alone in exploiting the crisis.
Democratic members of the House of Representatives, and some senators, on Wednesday staged a “sit-in” to demand action on gun control. The stunt followed the failure of four proposals in the Senate on Monday, including one from Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) that would not only require law enforcement to be notified when watchlisted individuals try to buy guns, but would allow for temporarily blocking sales and detaining suspected terrorists in certain circumstances. The Cornyn amendment had the support of the National Rifle Association.
“Of course no one wants terrorists to be able to buy guns. Let’s get real here,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) reportedly said prior to Monday’s vote. “So if Democrats are actually serious about getting a solution on that issue, not just making a political talking point, they’ll join with us.”
Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-California) argued against the Cornyn amendment, however, reportedly because the proposal had a “probable cause” standard that was too high and “would cut out a lot of people who are probable threats.” Feinstein offered her own proposal, which, like Cornyn’s, did not pass.
Glenn Greenwald of the Intercept points out that because Mateen had been investigated and cleared by the FBI, and his name taken off the terrorist watch list, expanding the power of these lists wouldn’t have done anything to stop him, nor many other mass shooters who have made headlines in recent years. To get around this inconvenient fact, Feinstein’s proposal would have given the attorney general discretion to block firearm purchases by anyone “‘who has been investigated in the last five years for ‘conduct related to a Federal crime of terrorism’,” essentially creating a new watch list specifically for denying people the right to bear arms.
“To justify this new list,” Greenwald writes, “Democrats, in unison, are actually arguing that the U.S. government must constrain people whom they are now calling ‘potential terrorists.’ Just spend a moment pondering how creepy and Orwellian that phrase is in the context of government designations.”
The American Civil Liberties Union, which opposed both Cornyn and Feinstein’s amendments, said that Feinstein’s “uses vague and overbroad criteria and does not contain necessary due process protections.”
So as Democrats literally sit on the floor demanding all-or-nothing gun control, plus a new shadowy and unaccountable watch list, and Republicans look for a chance to expand an already overwhelmingly massive surveillance system in ways that nobody is seriously arguing would have stopped the Orlando massacre, it seems there’s one thing everyone can agree on: You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.